Art classes may be getting cut elsewhere around the country, but Bozeman's Sacajawea Middle School still has a “fantastic” arts program, School Board trustees were told Tuesday.

Art teacher Richard Charron said when educators from Houston visited Sacajawea and saw the student artwork all around the school, their jaws dropped. Sacajawea students are lucky, he said, to get instruction in drawing, painting, sculpture, metal-smithing, jewelry and art history.

“Maintain this, please,” Charron urged trustees, who came to get a “snapshot” overview of the school. “You won't find this in other schools.”

Principal Gordon Grissom said Sacajawea's music and arts classes are examples of its commitment to educate “the whole child.” The school strives to personalize instruction for each child, Grissom said. “That's fundamental to who we are.”

Sacajawea's 651 students are also doing well in basic academic skills. On the state's standardized CRT tests taken last spring, 93 percent of students tested either advanced (70 percent) or proficient (23 percent) in reading.

In math, 83 percent of Sacajawea students tested at grade level or higher.

Among special education students, 63 percent scored at grade level in reading and 40 percent did so in math. Among low-income students, 82 percent scored well in reading and 67 percent did well in math.

At Sacajawea about 23 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-priced lunches last year because of low family income. That's substantially less than the 37 percent of low-income students reported at Chief Joseph Middle School, which draws students from the north side of Main Street.

Superintendent Rob Watson said, however, that low-income percentages are much closer at the two schools among this year's incoming sixth-graders.

This year 12 teachers, or a quarter of the certified staff of 49 teachers, are new to the school, said Patrick McClelland, vice principal. To smooth their transition, the school has veteran teachers like Peter Jacoby mentoring new teachers like Trista Babcock.

Babcock said mentoring helped her make the change from teaching a class of six students at rural LaMotte School to teaching scores of kids at Sacajawea. The school's teaching staff is “amazing,” she added.

“We want to build a great school,” Jacoby said. “Sixth-graders say, ‘Oh, we're like a family.'”

Lots of changes are being put into practice this year, from the new Common Core curriculum, to new software that tracks students' progress, new Chromebook technology and a pilot program in algebra. Teacher Doug Kraft said middle school and Bozeman High math teachers are meeting once a month and for the first time, all eighth-graders in Bozeman are getting the same curriculum.

Grissom presented three students chosen for the Two Roads Project, which gives each one $100 seed money to use for a charitable purpose. The students said they're holding pancake breakfasts to raise money to benefit people in drug and alcohol recovery, Hurricane Sandy victims and a local retirement home. They are “making a difference in the world,” Grissom said.

School Board trustees applauded the school's presentation.

“They're thinking outside the box,” School Board Chair Wendy Tage said. “I do think they're doing a great job. They've never lost focus on the kids.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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