Readin’, writin’, arithmetic and grit.

To be successful in life, Bozeman children need to learn social and emotional skills like perseverance and problem-solving, along with academic skills in math and reading, a group of educators and community members concluded Tuesday.

Some 56 people — teachers, principals, and representatives from groups like United Way and Montana State University — met for six hours at Willson School to brainstorm ideas for the Bozeman School District’s top goals for the coming school year.

On a giant sheet of blue paper, they posted several key goals for each grade level and then posted sticky dots to vote for the most important.

Getting every student to be proficient in English and math was among the most popular goals. But so were teaching conflict management, sparking an understanding of the value of education in students’ lives, developing a positive relationship with an adult, and fostering personal drive, resilience and grit.

“I found it very, very refreshing today to see a real deep desire of all people to do what’s best for our kids,” said LeeAnn Burke, LaMotte School superintendent and principal. “You all understand you’ve got children in your buildings.”

Rob Watson, Bozeman schools superintendent, said he wanted a large community discussion to better define what students need to be “college and career ready” and to focus the school district’s Long-Range Strategic Plan. He also wanted to identify goals where progress can be measured.

It may be hard to measure “soft skills” like perseverance, Watson said, but “it’s important for the community and parents to know there is more than math and language arts. I would want parents, community members and students to know (kids need) more than academics to be successful.”

Watson said Tuesday’s meeting is a first step. He plans to meet with parents and community groups to get more feedback about what kids need to be successful after high school.

The Bozeman School District first wrote its Long-Range Strategic Plan in 2007 and now updates it every year.

Before 2007, School Board Trustee Bruce Grubbs said, “every year we would pick new goals and work on those, but they wouldn’t necessarily carry over to the next year. There was no long-range plan.”

“It’s always important to have a plan,” said Marilyn King, deputy superintendent for instruction. “This helps us focus our efforts on the things most important to our school district community and all stakeholders — parents and kids, teachers, the entire school district team. … With a plan, we get all our oars pulling in the same direction.”

Bozeman’s strategic plan has four main goals — raising students’ academic performance, operating the schools well, engaging the community and taking care of students’ and staff’s health and safety.

Within those goals, some key objectives are to personalize learning for each student and to improve math and communication skills.

“We’re a high-performing district” academically, King said, adding, “There’s always room to grow.”

Getting the community involved in discussing school goals is a powerful thing, King said. “This inclusive process is one of the things that makes our school district great for kids.”

Trustee Heide Arneson said the federal No Child Left Behind law “made us focus on test scores. There’s more to it than that.”

Bozeman schools may not be able to measure qualities like grit, but, Watson said, “You can develop it.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at 406-582-2633 or gails@dailychronicle.com.

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