July 16, 2014 6:00 am • By ALEXANDER DEEDY Independent Record
A parent of students at Central-Linc Elementary and Helena Middle schools has published an online diagram showing how far behind academically students in the Helena School District are, compared with students in other similarly sized districts in Montana.
‘IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT YOUR SCHOOL’ | PARENTS, KIDS RALLY FOR DISTRICT AS A WHOLE
Two dozen parents and children used their morning walk to Central-Linc Elementary Tuesday to say they think Helenans should consider all students, not just their neighborhood school, before opposing the consolidation of district elementary schools.
Responding to the “Save Our Neighborhood Schools” rallies that have been held recently at three other schools, the demonstrators held signs with messages such as “It’s not just about your school” and “Don’t support the few at the expense of all.”
“I think too many people are focusing on protecting their school, when in fact what we need to be doing is thinking about all the children’s welfare in the entire district,” said parent Kyle Strode.
Read more at the Helena IR
Addressing the Helena school board of trustees this week, several residents likened a plan to consolidate elementary schools into 500-capacity buildings to warehousing, and thus alienating, young learners.
“I don’t think we need mega schools,” resident Brian Arnold said.
Helena’s small neighborhood schools are “jewels of the community,” another parent said.
Meanwhile, some district officials looking at the benefits of consolidation have said the city’s elementary schools aren’t just small: They’re tiny.
“We have itty-bitty schools, not small schools,” trustee Ellen Feaver said during a February board meeting.
Read more at the Helena IR here.
An IR View
This week Helena citizens finally got a look at a concrete facilities plan for the Helena School District.
The plan, presented Wednesday night by Helena Schools Superintendent Kent Kultgen, calls for investing in eight elementary schools, selling five district buildings and repurposing two buildings. As part of the plan Hawthorne, Bryant and Jefferson would all be closed as elementary schools. Hawthorne and Bryant would be sold. Jefferson would be used for administrative offices and possibly for students from the Project for Alternative Learning or PAL.
Read more at the Helena IR
Hawthorne, Bryant and Jefferson Elementary Schools would close, with boundaries for the remaining elementary schools redrafted to more evenly distribute students, under an elementary school bond proposal brought before the school board by Helena School District Superintendent Kent Kultgen.
“The majority, if not all people in Helena, understand we need to do something with our facilities,” Kultgen said. “Academically, we can’t continue the status quo.”
The district would sell five buildings, Hawthorne, Bryant, May Butler, Front Street Learning Center and Ray Bjork, while converting Jefferson to administration offices under the proposal. The remaining eight elementary schools, Jim Darcy, Central, Smith, Kessler, Rossiter, Four Georgians, Warren and Broadwater, would see between $3.4 million and $13.6 million in construction if voters approve a $73 million bond next May.
Kultgen citied statistics showing that the costs will increase each year the district waits to begin construction.
‘DIFFICULT DECISIONS’ | GROUP MUST DETERMINE HOW TO CONSOLIDATE 11 ELEMENTARIES TO CURB OVERCROWDING
Currently, seven of 11 elementary schools enroll fewer than 300 students. The smallest is Bryant school, where 212 students attend. District officials say the number of small schools is financially inefficient and limits students’ access to specialized staff, such as gym teachers, counselors and nurses. In order to solve overcrowding problems, the district is seeking to enlarge or consolidate at least some elementary schools so each can hold around 500 students. Two schools — Four Georgians and Rossiter schools — are currently built to that size.