January 13, 2023
Dear Helena Public Schools Families and Staff,
It goes without saying that teachers are at the heart of our mission to deliver high-quality education to our community’s children.
An educator’s commitment to excellence begins long before they greet their first class. In college, teaching majors must complete up to half a school year of student teaching time, gaining real-world experience in the classroom before earning their degree. With diploma in hand, new graduates must then pursue state licensing and keep their licensing current by completing continuing education courses. Many educators further their careers by pursuing graduate degrees that enable them to specialize in areas such as special education, library sciences or early childhood education. These rigorous academic and licensing pathways ensure that Montana children have access to quality education in our public schools.
Today I want to congratulate a group of educators who have obtained an additional layer of expertise – one that makes Helena Public Schools a leader in our state.
Last month, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards announced that 21 teachers in Montana earned Board Certification. Of those, 17 teach in our Helena Public Schools. What’s more, this brings the district’s total number of National Board-Certified teachers to 38, which is believed to be the highest number of any public school in Montana.
That matters for our students because National Board Certification is the gold standard of professional development for American teachers. And, here again, the certification process is a rigorous one. Courses can take up to three years for candidates to complete, which they must do on their own time on top of their regular teaching and family obligations. In other words, a lot of midnight oil is burned.
Recognizing the extraordinary commitment they have fulfilled, I’m honored to congratulate our 17 new National Board-Certified teachers, whose names are at this link. I’m grateful to each of them – both newly minted and veteran – for completing this intensive professional development work to better serve Helena’s children. Thank you.
While not all teachers are in a position to pursue Board Certification, our teachers’ high rate of participation in the program demonstrates the culture of excellence and continuous improvement valued by educators throughout our district. All Helena Public Schools teachers will benefit from the training and expertise that our Board-Certified educators bring back to the classroom and their peers.
Over the past year in these Friday updates, I’ve been referencing the projected shortfall in the district’s General Fund Budget.
The General Fund Budget is the how the district pays for its regular operating expenses as well as staff salaries and benefits. It accounts for nearly 60 percent of our district’s overall finances.
As part of our efforts to address the shortfall, you will receive an email survey early next week from Helena Public Schools. Please watch for it and carve out time to share your ideas and feedback.
Separate from the aforementioned General Fund Budget is the Building Reserve Budget, which supports all building projects, ongoing maintenance and repairs across the district – everything from replacing boilers, to maintaining plumbing, to replacing roofs.
The Building Reserve Budget is supported by levies – one for our Elementary District (K-8) and one for our High School District (9-12) – which the district asks voters to renew every 10 years. On the agenda for February’s Board of Trustees meeting is a vote on adding Elementary and High School Building Reserve Levies to the ballot for the district’s May election.
Taxpayers approved the last Building Reserve Levies for both districts in 2013 (with funds becoming available in 2015), enabling our district’s Facilities and Maintenance Team to take care of 20 campus sites to include:
That’s in addition to the windows, walls, sidewalks, lawns, trees, and miles upon miles of plumbing, electrical wiring, ductwork and all of the other internal and external components of a school. Now consider that the average age of our school buildings is 57, with the oldest built in 1938 (Helena Middle School) and the newest (Jim Darcy, Central and Bryant) built in 2019. That means most of our schools are on the older side, with many overdue for much-needed maintenance and upgrades. Most were designed at a time when today’s necessities – more sophisticated safety and security systems, improved air handling systems and spaces designed for modern Career & Technical Education equipment – weren’t a consideration. Meanwhile, building and maintenance costs have skyrocketed.
In light of all this – the sheer scope of our facilities, the age of our buildings, inflation, and the changing needs of today’s school environment – the district began a Master Facilities Planning process last summer. The resulting plan, due to be completed this fall, will guide facilities decisions to ensure that Building Reserve levy dollars are used as effectively and efficiently as possible.
As you can see, the Building Reserve Levy and the Master Facilities Plan go hand-in-hand, and both are on the agenda for the February Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, February 14. You may also want to review the “Citizen’s Guide to the Helena Schools District 2022-2023 Budget.” All of us are owners of our public schools and we all have a stake in our district’s future.
On the topic of facilities, I mentioned the need for spaces designed to house today’s sophisticated equipment for Career & Technical Education courses such as welding and machining.
Next week brings an opportunity to see the new, state-of-the-art plasma cutting table, which was purchased with a Great Ideas Grant from the Helena Education Foundation as well as other grant sources and community supporters. The computer-automated plasma cutting table can cut steel, aluminum, iron and other metals far faster than torches and with an extremely high degree of precision.
You can see the results this Thursday, January 19, as the Helena High School American Welding Society Club hosts its 11th Annual Weld-Off with East Helena High School. Students will take their positions at the welding table at noon and will have until 4:30 p.m. to create an original work. A panel of community members and industry leaders will immediately begin judging the projects for quality and creativity. The doors will open to the public from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday evening, after which the students’ work will be on display for purchase during normal business hours at Pacific Steel & Recycling at 1530 National Ave. Pacific will donate all proceeds to the Helena High School American Welding Society Club. Please see the map below for directions to the Helena High School Shop Facility.
Each year this contest produces some truly stunning sculptures as well as functional art.
Finally, a reminder that next week is a three-day school week. There will be no school on Monday, January 16, as we observe Martin Luther King Day. There is also no school on Friday, January 20, which is a staff in-service day. Thursday is early dismissal at noon for elementary and middle school.
Enjoy the long weekend with your family!
Rex Weltz, Superintendent
Helena Public Schools