Friday Message from Superintendent Weltz | April 28, 2023

Dear Helena Public Schools Families and Staff,

I recently had the opportunity to sit down for a conversation with a 2023 graduate and student leader, and I consider myself fortunate.

It’s always rewarding to hear about our grads’ future plans. But I was also fortunate to get on a graduating seniors’ busy schedule!

Keiran Boyle is the Capital High School Student Representative to the Helena Public Schools Board of Trustees. Throughout the year, Trustees have relied on Keiran and his Helena High counterpart, Loreley Drees, to provide the perspectives and insights of those who matter most – our students. Both Keiran and Loreley are outstanding scholars who keep incredibly busy schedules juggling student organizations, music, athletics, community service and more.

So, I’m grateful to Keiran for making time to join me for a discussion of the latest district news, with a focus on the 2023 Helena Public Schools Election. I look forward to a similar conversation with Loreley in the coming weeks as part of a regular series of interviews with student leaders and other district stakeholders.

On the topic of elections, thank you again for voting! If you haven’t yet turned in your ballot, there’s still time. The Lewis & Clark Elections Office is open from 8-5 on Monday and will be open extended hours on Tuesday, Election Day, from 7 am – 8 pm. Parking is available at the corner of Lawrence and North Park Avenue. Visit our election information page to see what’s on the ballot.

District Partners with Police Department for Handle with Care Program

As I’ve shared many times in this letter, Helena Public Schools couldn’t do what we do without our community partners. Earlier this month, more than 1,600 fourth and fifth graders visited the Helena Civic Center to hear the work of American composer George Gershwin thanks to the generosity of Helena Symphony musicians and their supporters. And just this week, The Myrna Loy treated more than 2,000 kindergarten through second grade students to Carroll College Theatre’s production of Charlotte’s Web by American novelist E.B. White.

The opportunity for students to experience live theater showcasing our country’s cultural heritage is priceless.

Our community partners also include local government agencies, such as the Helena Police Department (HPD). While the district works with HPD every day through our school resource officers, we began to recognize a communication gap when students witnessed traumatic incidents at home or elsewhere.

The new “Handle With Care” program establishes a confidential process for police officers to notify school officials when a student witnesses a traumatic event and may need extra support as they return to the classroom. The officer will use an online form to provide the student’s name to school officials, but will not provide details about the traumatic event. Examples of when an officer would use the Handle With Care portal include cases of domestic violence in the presence of the student, death of a family or household member, arrest of a parent or guardian in the presence of a student, and child abuse or neglect.

While the district won’t know specific details of the incident, we will be able to ask the student’s teacher, school counselor and other relevant staff to provide extra support so the student can continue to learn and succeed at school.

Helena Police Chief Brett Petty noted that Handle with Care has been successful in other communities around the country, and we’re grateful for HPD’s leadership and collaboration on this important initiative.

Increase in Vigilante parade entries

Another long-time district partnership with the City of Helena goes back generations. The 99th Annual Vigilante Day Parade is Friday, May 5. High School students will have the day off and grades K-8 will be dismissed at 11 a.m. to enjoy this beloved Helena tradition. The district works closely with the city on logistics for everything from street closures to policing, and we’re grateful for the many hours of work the city puts in each year to make the parade a success.

I’m also pleased to report that the number of parade entries is up this year. We expect some truly extraordinary floats!

While parade day is jubilant, some serious work goes into presenting a quality event. The first step for students is writing a research paper on a historical theme. Essays must include substantive research using multiple, properly cited sources. Once the students’ essays and float information are approved, they can begin building their floats, following district guidelines.

Their reward comes on parade day, when generations of Helenans have made memories since the event was established in 1924. More on that next week!

Arbor Day event has deep roots

Today students participated in another activity whose history dates back a century and involves some of the same community partners we work with today.

The City of Helena invited fourth and fifth graders from Central Elementary to plant trees this afternoon in the burn scar from the 2022 Mount Helena fire. The event paid homage to a similar tree planting that occurred on Arbor Day 1899.

With help from the Montana Historical Society, City of Helena staff re-created the historic day when Helena school children carried a tree seedling up Mount Helena – one of the first documented attempts to reforest it. The students were serenaded as they climbed by members of the Helena Symphony.

Fast forward, 124 years, and violinists played once again as students planted 140 tree seedlings and dispersed native grass seed this afternoon to help restore the burn area.

I’m grateful to live in a town with deep roots and cherished community partners.

Jefferson and Four Georgians principal updates

In staff news, congratulations are in order for Brice Burton, who was confirmed this week as the new principal of Jefferson Elementary after serving as interim principal. Meanwhile, community members and staff were invited to an open house this afternoon to meet candidates for the principal position at Four Georgians Elementary School.

District business update

In district business, the Master Facilities Planning process continues as we develop a roadmap to guide the ongoing maintenance and development of school facilities for the next 5, 10 and 20 years. The Master Facilities Plan Key Stakeholders Group gathered for its third meeting Wednesday, and I look forward to sharing a progress report in the weeks to come.

Congratulations are also in order for our Transportation Department, whose safety technology is garnering attention from other districts in the state and region.

Earlier this month, Transportation Director Tom Cohn and his team hosted officials from the Canyons School District outside Salt Lake City for a demonstration of the Edulog tablets used by our school bus drivers for route-finding as well as student onboarding and offboarding.

Helena Public Schools was among the first in the nation to implement the tablets in 2019. While the system makes our transportation department efficient, its biggest advantage is student safety.

The electronic tablets replace paper maps and paper onboarding and offboarding lists. The tablets can be used only when the bus is stopped, greatly reducing the potential for distracted driving.

The tablets are synced with bus-mounted GPS systems, which give drivers turn-by-turn route instructions, an especially important feature for new and substitute drivers. Meanwhile, bus swipe cards enable parents to see where their child is on the bus route and to confirm that their student got on and off the bus.

Canyons School District Transportation Director Jeremy Wardle said his district will invest in Edulog tablets for all 185 of its buses now that his team has had the chance to “kick the tires” in Helena.

Our Transportation Department has also gotten calls this year from Missoula, Stevensville and other out-of-state districts wanting to learn about our bus technology. Congratulations to Tom and the Transportation team for leading the way in student safety!

Student & Staff Recognitions

In student and educator recognitions, I’m excited to share that Capital High Senior Connor Bushnell has been named a semifinalist in the 2023 U.S. Presidential Scholars Competition.

Connor is among seven Helena Public Schools students who were named as candidates for the prestigious program in January, and among 59 candidates statewide. Established in 1964 by executive order of the President, the U.S. Department of Education program honors the nation’s most distinguished graduating high school seniors. The final selection will be announced in mid-May.

Speaking of presidential awards, congratulations again to science teachers Sarah Urban (CHS) and Megan Lane (CRA Middle School) on being named state-level finalists for Montana for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the nation’s higher honor for educators in the field. Ms. Lane and Ms. Urban were featured in an article in the Independent Record this week.

It’s spring sprint time

As we gear up for the Vigilante Parade next week, I’m reminded that this is the time of year when we shift from running the marathon of the school year to the final sprint. Every week features fun activities that showcase what our students have learned and achieved this school year.

The final performances of Capital High’s Agatha Christie courtroom drama “Witness for the Prosecution,” are tonight and tomorrow night. Curtain is at 6 p.m. at the Capital High Theater. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students/seniors. VIP seating is available near the stage for $15. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.

And later this month, the Helena High Thespians will present “Rip Van Winkle,” written by Washington Irving. Performances are May 18-19 and May 25-26 at the HHS Little Theater. Tickets are $8.

And after a cold, wet start to the spring sports season, games are finally underway without delay.

More than 500 athletes from across the state will be in Helena this week, using the new track at Vigilante Stadium for the Skor-DeKam Invitational Track & Field Meet. The Skor-DeKam Invitational is another decades-old Helena tradition, named in honor of revered Helena coaches Lloyd Skor and Emilee DeKam. Please join me in extending a warm welcome to our visiting track and field competitors this weekend.

As track athletes arrive in town, our HHS and CHS softball teams are headed out for games in Missoula. Meanwhile, our tennis players are headed to the Western AA Invitational Tournament in Kalispell.

Good luck to all of our Bengal and Bruin athletes on the track, field, diamond and court!

Enjoy this beautiful weekend!


Signature: Rex M. Weltz, Superintendent

Rex Weltz, Superintendent
Helena Public Schools