Back to school? Not yet. Back to the fair!

The other day, while we were in the store, I spied a “Back to School Sale” sign and pointed it out to the kids. Even though they both love school, they cried “NOOOOO!” in unison.

Yes, we are already counting down the days until August 27, when school will begin again, and trying to squeeze in as much camping, BBQing, swimming, and playing at the park time as possible. Sure, we can do all these things after school starts – but it’s just not the same.

This summer is just flying by, far too fast, and there’s still so much my family wants to do.

The Western Montana Fair is always on our must-do summer list, and this year promises to be extra special because it’s the fair’s 100th anniversary. It starts Tuesday, August 5 and ends on August 10.

What sort of things do you consider essential summer fun? Gotten around to doing them yet? Time’s a-wasting!

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MT bus drivers to get criminal background checks

Yesterday the Montana Board of Public Education passed a new rule that will require every bus driver in the state to undergo a criminal background check.

File that news under: Long Overdue.

But is this really necessary? Why yes it is. A recent legislative audit of the 2011-’12 school year turned up 64 bus drivers who had criminal histories. Two of these had been convicted of drunken driving within the previous three years.

That’s only a very small percentage of Montana’s nearly 1,500 drivers – but still, it’s not something I think we want to risk. Not when it comes to transporting Montana’s school children to school and back safely. None of these drivers should have recent drunken driving convictions. And none of them should have recently had their licenses suspended.

So good on the Education Board for finally making background checks a requirement.

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More free admission days at Children’s Museum Missoula

Believe it or not, this Friday, Jan. 3, is the First Friday of a brand-new year.

As usual, the Children’s Museum Missoula will be opening its doors from 5-7 p.m. Stop by with the kiddos and check out artwork provided by Missoula International School students.

Admission during those hours will be free, as well as free all day long the next day, Saturday, Jan. 4, during open hours from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday’s free admission is thanks to the support of ZillaState.

Not a bad way to kick off the first week of 2014.

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Montana High School Business Challenge team winners announced on this blog at last!

We’re going to time-travel together back to last week, when the winners of the statewide High School Business Challenge were first announced.

That was back before all the work stuff and family stuff and school stuff and holiday stuff and stuff stuff waylayed me, and before I decided to just chuck it all and get back in my bloggin’ groove.

I still think it’s worth listing the winners of this totally cool competition. Here’s the 411 and the deets (yes, I can hear myself and yes, I know I sound like a huge nerd):

Congratulations to all Montana High School
Business Challenge Teams
Fall Semester 2013 Competition

Montana High School Business Challenge (HSBC) students completed the 8th and final week of the fall semester competition on December 11, 2013.  The 8 week competition saw the economic model begin with moderate growth followed by an economic downturn before rebounding the final two weeks (two business quarters).  The Montana Chamber Foundation with support from individuals, businesses and foundations offers the business education competition to any school in Montana interested in bringing their students a real life simulation that teaches business operations and management.  Since 2002 more than 18,000 students have learned business skills by competing in the program.

Teams are ranked at the end of the competition by the final stock price of the simulated business they manage in a competitive market place against other schools in the semester program.  Students on the First Place Team receive a $1,000 academic scholarship to any 2 or 4 year college.  Second place team members receive a $500 scholarship and Third Place team members a $250 scholarship.  Other scholarships are awarded for finishing in the top quartile of stock prices and for realizing the largest stock price rebound from the mid-point of the competition until the final week.  Teams are recognized at local awards ceremonies in their communities, during Business Days at the Capitol in January.

First Place Fall 2013 Competition

Billings Skyview High School (Team 6)-$99.45/Share

Second Place Fall 2013 Competition
Whitefish High School (Team 9)-$82.15/Share

Third Place Fall 2013 Competition (Tie)
Libby High School (Team 12)-$78.95/Share

Third Place Fall 2013 Competition (Tie)
North Toole County High School (Sunburst) (Team 7)-$78.95/Share

Random Team Draw for Finishing in the Top Quartile
Corvallis High School (Team 3)

Largest Stock Price For Quarters 4-8
Helena Capital High School (Team 9)-$42.67 Gain/Share

For more information regarding the Montana High School Business Challenge go to or contact Kerry Schaefer (HSBC Coordinator) at 406-463-2370 or

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Above average

So the Montana Office of Public Instruction just passed along some good news. It seems that in the latest study of eighth-grade math and science scores, Montana’s students scored above average.

Like, globally.

Montana eighth graders earned “seventh (place) among states in the U.S. and 12th among all states and 50 countries.”

Here, read for yourself:

Montana Students Rank High in International Math and Science Comparison

Helena, MT –  Superintendent Denise Juneau announced Montana eighth graders ranked above international averages in mathematics and science in a first-of-its-kind comparison of achievement in the United States with student performance in 47 countries and jurisdictions. Only four countries scored above Montana 8th graders in Science, and only seven countries scored above Montana 8th graders in Math.

“In today’s economy, we know that our students are not only competing with students across the country, but with students across the globe,” said Superintendent Juneau. “This study is an important look at how our students are doing in science and math on a global scale.”

Juneau continued, “Knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering and math continue to be in demand and are a pathway to high-paying jobs. K-12 educators will remain focused on delivering high-quality science and math instruction as well as inspiring students to explore these fields.”

The study by the National Center for Education Statistics connects math and science scores of American students on the 2011 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) with results from the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

NAEP, often referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card,” is taken by representative samples of American students and allows for state-to-state comparisons of achievement in mathematics, science and reading. TIMSS is taken by students in 38 countries and nine sub-national jurisdictions, including several Canadian provinces.

Science scores of Montana eighth graders were higher than 43 countries and systems. Only Singapore, Taiwan (Chinese Taipei), South Korea, and Japan scored higher. Compared to the TIMSS averages of 500, average scores for 47 states were higher, two states were not significantly different, and three states were lower. Montana had a score of 551, which was seventh among states and 12th among all states and 50 countries. Eight states, including Montana, were at the High International Benchmark.

Grade 8 Science NAEP-TIMSS Comparisons

Statistically higher than Montana: Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Republic of Korea, Japan.

Statistically lower than Montana: Alberta Canada, Slovenia, Russian Federation, Hong Kong, England, United States, Hungary, Ontario Canada, Quebec Canada, Australia, Sweden, 32 others.

Math scores of Montana eighth graders were higher than 40 countries and systems. Only students in South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan (Chinese Taipei), Hong Kong, Japan, Russia and Quebec ranked higher. Compared to the TIMSS averages of 500, average scores for 36 states were higher, 10 states were not significantly different, and six states were lower. Montana had a score of 531, which was ninth among states and 16th among all states and 50 countries.

Grade 8 Math NAEP-TIMSS Comparisons

Statistically higher than Montana: Republic of Korea, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Russian Federation, Quebec Canada.

Statistically lower than Montana: Israel, Finland, Ontario Canada, United States, England, Alberta Canada, Australia, Italy, Sweden, Norway, 30 others.

To download “The Nation’s Report Card: U.S. States in a Global Context: Results from the 2011 NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study,” go to:

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Hellgate Elementary holiday craft fair to help needy families

With Halloween just a few days away, let’s turn our attention to Christmas.

No, for real.

The kind folks with the Hellgate Elementary PTA sent me a note about their upcoming craft fair and asked if Missoula Mom could help spread the word that they are accepting registrations for craft vendors.

The craft fair will take place on Saturday, Dec. 3, so there’s still plenty of time for vendors to get ready – but they shouldn’t wait to turn in their registrations. It costs $30 per 8-foot by 8-foot booth, tables are $8 each, and each vendor will be required to offer up one $10 item for raffle.

The raffle items will be collected into baskets to help raise money for needy Hellgate families, to help them make ends meet over the holidays.

The fair will open in Hellgate’s Middle School Gym and Commons Area (Building 3) at 2385 Flynn Lane in Missoula. The sale will start at 9 a.m. and continue through 3 p.m., so vendors should expect to start setting up at 8 a.m. and stay for the duration.

Vendor registration forms are available by contacting Theresa Tanner at or 406-529-8579.

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Kindergartners causing big increase in Missoula school enrollment

In today’s Missoulian, K-12 education reporter Jamie Kelly takes us all the way back to the baby boomer generation and explains how the “echoes” of that generation have affected local school enrollment.

To wit: Missoula County Public Schools enrollment has been on the decline for the past seven years. But not this year.

MCPS this year saw a big increase in kindergarten enrollment. The 660 kids it took in is about 120 more than its 10-year average.

These kindergartners are among the 8,555 students currently attending school in Missoula, up from 8,381 last year.

So if you have a kiddo in school, and it seems like there are more kids in your kid’s school, now you know why.

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77 million students getting ready to go back to school

Back to schoolThe always timely U.S. Census Bureau has the latest figures in for all your back-to-school questions.

How much money was spent at family clothing stores last August? $7.4 billion. How much was spent at bookstores? $2.2 billion.

The lion’s share of this money was presumably spent by the families of the nation’s 77 million students – both children and adults enrolled in one of the nation’s  schools, from preschool to college.

That’s roughly 27 percent of the population.

For the kiddos, the United States was home to 98,706 public schools at last count, and 33,740 private schools.  They employ some 7.2 million teachers – nearly 3 million of which teach elementary or middle-school.

Public school teachers make an average annual salary of $65,800 – in California, which has the highest pay rate. The lowest rate is in South Dakota, where teachers make an average annual salary of $36,700. In Montana, the National Education Association has the average annual salary of a public school teacher in 2008-’09 at $42,874.

So parents: Ask your teacher how you can help out with school supplies this year, and remember to remind your child to bring in that apple.

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BBB has back-to-school shopping tips for parents and students

Less than one month to go before school starts! And I’m already more nervous and excited than my soon-to-be first-grader.

The way she’s growing, we’ll be waiting until the last minute before we do any back-to-school clothes shopping. In the meantime, our regional Better Business Bureau is sending out five tips and other advice geared toward back-to-school shopping parents and older students – such as those in the market for computers and credit cards.

The tips include asking about refunds and returns, asking about restocking fees, carefully vetting businesses and their deals, being a smart online shopper and keeping all items in their original boxes. Check out the tips in detail, as well as more information, here.

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Fear of layoffs a factor in back-to-school shopping outlook this year

In theory I subscribe to the needs-over-wants attitude toward back-to-school shopping. But when that list of must-have school supplies landed in our mailbox a while back, I have to admit, the thought of buying a brand-new box of crayons and new glue made me smile.

Back to school already? But there are still almost two months to go before the first day of school on August 29!

Nevertheless, the National Retail Federation is preparing to release its latest survey results, which focus on parent expectations on their back-to-school shopping needs.

Back-to-school shoppers are expected to be a little more practical-minded this year, according to NRF partner BIGresearch. The survey results showed that nearly half the respondents report being more practical shoppers already.

And more than 25 percent of respondents said they fear that more job layoffs are coming – which goes hand-in-hand with the one-third of respondents who say they are focusing their financial activities on paying down debt, leading to a decrease in spending.

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