Kids at Bozeman's Irving School are learning well, but teachers are trying a new scheduling idea to help more students succeed.

Principal Adrian Advincula explained the innovation to Bozeman School Board trustees Tuesday during their annual lunch visit to the school on South Eighth Avenue. It has about 286 students this year.

“We were doing things well,” Advincula said, “but we wanted to do better.”

The new schedule is called “the fourth special,” a 45-minute block of time that's set aside four times a week, when five teachers will team up to give an entire class intensive instruction in key skills of reading and math.

The name is taken from the other three “specials” — health enhancement, library and music lessons — that are already on the weekly schedule.

Instead of “pulling out” of class a handful of struggling kids to give them extra help, all five teachers “push in” to the classroom and work with all students in small groups, explained third-grade teachers Sara Filipowicz and Sarah Barefield.

Joining the two regular classroom teachers are Irving's intervention teacher, a special education resource teacher and a paraprofessional teacher.

“This doesn't single students out” as needing help, Filipowicz said. “We absolutely love it.”

The kids love it, too, she said, explaining that they get to work together more, talk about how to solve math word problems and feel more “ownership.”

“There are so many benefits to this model,” said Kristin Dantagnan, Irving's intervention teacher. “The ability to meet the needs of each student is magical.”

It's intended to help not only kids who are struggling, but also those working at grade level and the more advanced “high-flyers,” Advincula said.

Teamwork has also been stressed for teachers as they tackle the new, demanding standards of the Common Core, he said. The 45-minute blocks are considered “untouchable,” which means teachers can't be pulled out for other duties.

Before the new schedule, students were taken out of class for extra help and they'd miss what the rest of the class was learning, said kindergarten teacher Evelyn Ybarra. “Not having to pull them out is immense.”

On the 2013 statewide, standardized CRT tests taken last spring, Irving School students did well in reading, with 90 percent scoring at grade level or higher. That was an improvement from 84 percent in 2007.

On reading, 80 percent of Irving's special education students and 82 percent of low-income students did well, surpassing both the state and school district averages. Some 54 percent of Irving students qualify for free and reduced-price school lunches.

Students struggling most in reading were those still learning English, many of whom are the children of international professors or graduate students at Montana State University.

On math, 76 percent of Irving students tested at grade level or higher. That was better than the state average of 65 percent, but below the Bozeman district's 80 percent.

Advincula said Irving students are now improving in math after scores dipped for several years. He and teachers said they think the new “fourth special” schedule will help students improve in math.

“We have a wonderful staff at Irving,” the principal said. “They love what they do; they go above and beyond.”

He introduced Jonny Morris, one of five new teachers this year. Morris, the health enhancement teacher, said in his English accent that he had taught in central London the past five years. Morris and a parent regularly walk with 15 to 20 kids from MSU's family housing to Irving in the mornings, creating a “walking school bus” that encourages kids to be get exercise.

On Tuesday morning, Morris said, they beat the yellow school bus to school.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 582-2633.



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