Debate class to end at Skyview High School

2010-02-16T17:30:00Z Debate class to end at Skyview High School Rob Rogers and Susan Olp Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette

Skyview High will eliminate its speech and debate classes from the school schedule this fall, leaving in place only the after-school debate club.

“We didn’t take moving (the class) out of the school day lightly,” said Principal Bob Whalen.

However, he said, it’s become necessary as core class sizes grow, and he’s tasked with finding ways to keep the stu-dent-teacher ratio down.

Removing the speech class allows the school to create more sections of English and keep class sizes manageable, he said. Senior made the same move a year ago and West High will follow suit next year, he said.

Whalen’s hope is that his school’s debate team can continue to thrive as an after-school club.

“It hasn’t seemed to hurt other schools,” he said of those that have made similar decisions.

But Jerry Hooton disagrees.

Hooton, who spoke to trustees at Monday night’s meeting, said Tuesday he fears that if speech and debate classes are no longer offered, the program will slowly die out.

“Anyone who’s been in it knows you need the class, to learn how to do it, and you have after school to prepare,” Hooton said. “Without the class, the program simply won’t survive. It will just shrivel up.”

Four of his children have participated in debate.

Hooton, vice president of employee performance and development for First Interstate Bank, worked as a volunteer debate coach for four years at Skyview, up through last spring. He helped teach a first-period debate class on company time, with full approval from the bank.

Concerned about the possible loss of the classes, Hooton started a page on Facebook called “Help Save Skyview Speech and Debate” that now has 408 members. He asked people who joined the page to send letters to Whalen telling him how the program had affected their lives.

At the meeting Monday night, Hooton informed trustees that First Interstate Bank is supportive of the district’s speech and debate program. On Tuesday, he said he spoke to Lyle Knight, First Interstate’s CEO about the situation.

“(Knight) said look into and see if you can find some ways to help out,” Hooton said. “He said ‘we’re supportive of athletic programs, but also of academic programs.’ ”

Hooton told Whalen he would be willing to return to the classroom to continue teaching the debate class, as one way to keep the classes going. He has also contributed company-matched funds to the school’s speech and debate program, as have other employees, and he said more of that could happen in the future.

Whalen acknowledged that Hooton is a valuable asset to the school’s debate team.

“He’s a very staunch supporter,” Whalen said.

He’s turned down Hooton’s offer to teach the class, calling it a “tough situation” because Hooton does not have a state teaching credential.

Scott Anderson, executive director of secondary education for Billings School District 2 sympathized with Hooton, but said ultimately principals must do what they think will best serve the largest amount of students.

“Any time you look at moving things out there’s going to be emotion,” he said.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or at 406-657-1231 and Sue Olp at solp@billingsgazette.com or at 406-657-1281.

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