September 16, 2022
Good Afternoon Helena Public Schools Families and Staff,
The 2022-23 school year is in full swing. Weekday routines are falling into place and weekends bring fun on the sidelines as we cheer on our student athletes, be it football, cheerleading, soccer, dance team, golf, volleyball or cross country.
Whether you’re a coach, a booster club volunteer, or a fan in the stands, we appreciate your support!
Earlier this fall, we introduced new educators joining our district. Today, I would like to introduce a new member of the Central Office leadership team. Todd Verrill joined us September 1 as District Support Services Director, which includes oversight of the Facilities, Custodial and Safety and Operations teams. Todd joins us following his retirement from the Montana National Guard, where he served as construction and facilities management officer and was previously the deputy commanding and operations officer. He’s a graduate of the US Military Academy and the US Army War College. Todd and his wife, Marty, have two children in Helena Public Schools.
Facilities and security
Todd is hitting the ground running, with his team completing more than 200 work orders since the school year began. Maintenance staff are in the midst of an irrigation project in front of Helena Middle School as well as painting lines on football and soccer fields, mowing district grounds and changing out air handling system filters districtwide. Safety and Operations, meanwhile, is leading districtwide emergency response training.
Moving forward, Todd will play a critical leadership role as the district develops its Master Facilities Plan (MFP), a process that will take stock of the district’s existing facilities, identify current and future needs and inform how we prioritize and invest in facilities going forward. The resulting MFP will be a living document that can be revisited and revised each year as the district’s needs evolve and change.
Montana-based SMA Architecture + Design was hired this summer to guide development of the MFP, which will include input from key stakeholders, including students, families and the general public. Facilities needs are interwoven with another district focus area, which is safety and security. For example, as we keep exterior doors and windows locked, indoor temperatures spike in warm weather, in turn creating new air handling needs.
That’s why SMA, in addition to our Facilities and IT teams, will participate in a districtwide safety and security audit later this month. The work will be led by Michigan-based Security Education Consultants (SEC), an outside firm jointly contracted by a group of Montana AA schools to help us identify, prioritize and address school security needs. SEC’s findings will also help inform the Master Facilities Plan around areas such as heating and cooling, foot traffic patterns and use of entries and exits throughout the day.
While this careful assessment and planning takes additional time and effort, it will help us avoid oversights and result in learning spaces that are safe, comfortable and highly functional. I look forward to keeping you informed as these efforts progress.
Because safety is top of mind, I’d like to give a quick recap of security upgrades to date.
In 2017, voters approved an Elementary Bond that included funding for a range of security upgrades, including the installation of secure, keyless entry systems for our elementary and middle schools. This work was completed before the start of the 2020-21 school year. The next project, finishing the installation of door buzzers at every elementary and middle school, will begin next week and finish later this month. The buzzers sound an alarm any time a door is left open for more than 3 minutes.
At the high-school level, security enhancements are separate from the projects funded by the Elementary Bond. Work was completed last year to require the public to enter through secure points of entry. We’re also working closely with building administrators to ensure that exterior doors and windows remain closed and locked. Next steps for high school security enhancement will be identified through the upcoming security audit in tandem with the master facilities planning process.
I’m grateful to our Facilities and IT teams, who are doing this important work. I’d like to give a special shout out to Facilities Manager Rob Brewer, for his excellent leadership as we recruited for the support services director position.
Substitute Teacher Appreciation Week
I want to recognize another group of unsung heroes as we mark Substitute Teacher Appreciation Week. Our substitutes provide stability and continuity to our classrooms as teachers respond to the illnesses and personal needs that inevitably come up over the course of a school year. Substitute work is an essential part of our district operations, requiring a passion for teaching and supporting kids. Thank you to each of our substitute teachers for sharing your time and talents with our students. If you’re interested in serving as a substitute teacher, please visit our website to learn more.
Angel Fund and Carnival Classic
I’d also like to say a huge thank you to the Helena Education Foundation and the dozens of student, staff and community volunteers who spray-painted hair, applied temporary tattoos, plunged into ice-cold water, and so much more to make the return of Carnival Classic a smashing success last weekend! Proceeds will no doubt give a boost to the dozens of student clubs, teams and activities involved.
At Tuesday evening’s Board of Trustees meeting, we heard from another community organization that makes a tremendous difference in the lives of Helena students. The Angel Fund was established 32 years ago, when Marcia Wall was working as a counselor at Helena Middle School. One afternoon she noticed that a handful of kids didn’t board the bus for a field trip to the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. Marcia did some sleuthing and learned that they couldn’t afford the $5 to $10 participation fee. She decided then and there to do something to level the playing field.
Last year, the Angel Fund assisted 795 students with school clothes and the organization expects to help 1,100 students with back-to-school shopping this fall.
Approved applicants receive a voucher of up to $150 per elementary student and $200 per middle or high school student. The family can then use the voucher to select clothes at four participating retailers: Target, TJ Maxx, Walmart, and Old Navy. The clothes are placed on hold and paid for later by an Angel Fund representative who visits the store. The family is then notified that their items are ready for pick up – giving the student the chance to participate in the ritual of fall school shopping as well as the dignity of wearing new clothes. The application period for Fall ’23 clothing assistance will begin October 1, with the shopping period running October 1 through November 30. Students who qualify for Free & Reduced Lunch also qualify for Angel Fund assistance. For information on how to apply, visit angelfundhelena.org/howtoapply.
Meanwhile, the Angel Fund provides dozens of pairs of athletic shoes to students in need throughout the school year through its “Running for Montana’s Future” program. The shoes are distributed by School Resource Officers (SROs), helping them make a positive connection with students.
In addition, the Angel Fund’s supporters provided more than $60,000 for school supplies this fall through the “Stuff the Bus” campaign as well as $50,000 in scholarships for Helena Public Schools graduates to attend Montana colleges and universities this fall.
We appreciate all who support our students through the Angel Fund with gifts large and small. To learn how to give, visit angelfundhelena.org. I also want to recognize Central School Principal Nick Radley for his volunteer work as Angel Fund Chairman, as well as Board of Directors Members Steve Thennis, principal at Helena High; Mary Anderson, counselor at Rossiter Elementary; and Sara Hayter, administrative assistant at CR Anderson Middle School. We are deeply grateful to all of the Angel Fund’s board members, as well as Executive Director Janet Riis for bringing dignity and opportunity to Helena-area students year after year.
Student & Educator Recognitions
I noted last week how fortunate we are to live in a community that cares.
This culture of caring was noted by Flathead High School Principal Michele Paine earlier this week as she named Helena High School Principal Steve Thennis the Montana AA Principal of the Year.
“The school culture comes through loud and clear,” said Paine, outgoing president of the principals’ organization. “It’s a place where people care about each other, and the leader is going to do the right thing and always act in the best interest of students.”
And last, but decidedly not least, please join me in congratulating our high school students (see below) who were recently selected to the College Board National Recognition Program. The program recognizes students for academic performance at school as well as outstanding performance on the PSAT/NMSQT®, PSAT™ 10, and/or AP® exams. We know how much hard work these students have put in to achieve this prestigious recognition. Congratulations!
We have the makings of a wonderful weekend ahead with a hint of fall color, autumn sunshine, and cooler temps. Enjoy!
Rex Weltz, Superintendent
Helena Public Schools
The following students were selected to the College Board National Recognition Program for academic achievement, including outstanding performance on the PSAT/NMSQT®, PSAT™ 10, and/or AP® Exams:
Capital High School
Helena High School