Friday Message from Superintendent Weltz | May 26, 2023

Dear Helena Public Schools Families and Staff,

It’s that bittersweet time of year when, in addition to sending off our graduates, we bid farewell to our retiring staff, some of whom have served our community for decades.

This year’s longest-serving retiree is Sherri Haller, fourth grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary, who has taught in Helena Public Schools for 42 years. I know that generations of former students will enjoy reconnecting with Mrs. Haller and her fellow retirees, who have touched so many lives, as they engage with the community in their new ventures.

Congratulations and thank you to all who have dedicated their careers to serving Helena’s youth.

In other educator recognitions, I’d like to congratulate Capital High School Photography Teacher Genevieve Anderson, who has been named the “2023 Expressions by Walgreens Art Challenge” Teacher Champion for the Western United States. Ms. Anderson’s award was connected to a photography project in which she challenged her students to voice their views about current events and concerns. Thank you, Ms. Anderson, for giving students a voice and an emotional outlet through art. Learn more about her award on our Helena Public Schools Facebook page.

Congratulations are also in order for Capital High School Counselor Jeramie Robinson, who was named runner-up for the 2023 Montana School Counselor of Year at the recent Montana School Counselor Association Conference here in Helena. We appreciate all that our excellent counselors do to help our students make the most of their education. Jill Cook, executive director of the American School Counselors Association said it best: “Each year, the School Counselor of the Year program shows us what the research tells us – that school counselors have a significant impact on students’ academic achievement, social/emotional development and plans for life after graduation.”

And a big congratulations to Elizabeth “Libby” Kenney, Montessori Teacher at Central Elementary and Chelsey Davis, Librarian at Four Georgians Elementary, who are among 41 Montana educators nominated for the 2024 Montana Teacher of the Year Award through the Montana Office of Public Instruction. Finalists will be selected in mid-September.

Summer meal program changes

As we approach the last two weeks of the school year, I have a couple district business updates to share. The first is a change to the district’s free summer meals program.

While we’re able to offer more meal options for kids this summer through the Munchtana Food Truck, families will be required to register their child to receive food. Registration is simple and is required only once, when your child receives their first meal. All children are eligible to receive meals, regardless of income level.

Registration is being required for the first time by the federal USDA Summer Food Service Program.

Please visit our website to register and see Munchtana food truck times and locations. Helena Public Schools is proud to be part of this program to ensure that students have access to a healthy, balanced diet to continue to learn and grow during the summer months. And we’re grateful to Food Services Director Robert Worthy, who operates the Munchtana food truck through the district’s food services contractor, Sodexo.

Staff announcements

In staff announcements, we’ll have a change in principals at three elementary schools this fall. Trish Klock, current principal of Bryant Elementary, will move into a new role as principal at Hawthorne Elementary. Meanwhile Erin Maxwell, current principal at Ray Bjork Learning Center, will take the reins as principal at Bryant Elementary.

I would also like to thank outgoing principals Justine Alberts (Hawthorne) and Sean Morrison (Four Georgians) for their leadership. Ms. Alberts is starting a new role as an education professor at Carroll College and Mr. Morrison will serve as a counselor at Rossiter Elementary. In last week’s letter, I introduced Carrie Shinkle, incoming principal at Four Georgians Elementary.

Please join us in welcoming and congratulating our principals in their new roles!

I would also like to personally thank retiring K-5 Assistant Superintendent Brian Cummings for his tremendous leadership of our elementary schools. Mr. Cummings has served Helena Public Schools for 29 years. That’s in addition to his 13 years with the district as a K-12 student!

Mr. Cummings began his career with the district as a teacher at CR Anderson Middle School. He then served from 2001-2005 as assistant principal at Helena High School and from 2005-2021 at Jim Darcy Elementary, before moving into his K-5 superintendent role. While his position will not be replaced, the positive impact of Mr. Cumming’s work to support principals, staff and students and to ensure best practices for Pre K-5instruction will be felt for years to come.

Thank you, Mr. Cummings, and best wishes for your next chapter.

New locations for RBLC programs

Earlier this spring, we announced that the Ray Bjork Learning Center (RBLC) campus is being closed as a cost-saving measure. New locations are now finalized for RBLC services. Three entities will be located at Bryant Elementary this fall:

  • TLC (Therapeutic Learning Center): A partnership with Shodair Children’s Hospital for students needing emotional, behavioral and academic support
  • PEAK Gifted & Talented program staff
  • Trailhead 1 and Trailhead 2 programs for students in need of additional behavioral and academic support

In addition, the district’s two special education preschool classrooms will move to Jefferson and Rossiter elementary schools.

The district is currently considering options for the RBLC facility’s future.

Budget Consensus Committee convenes

Meanwhile, a working group tasked with providing budget recommendations to the Board of Trustees for the 2024-25 school year convened last week for its first meeting. Consisting of 40 representatives of district stakeholder groups, the Budget Recommendation Consensus Committee will meet over the course of the next nine months or so, with the goal of presenting its recommendations to Trustees by late winter 2024. The committee will follow an established consensus-building process that has been used by school districts, local governments, corporations and other entities across the globe.

As the committee begins its work, I would like to address a rumor circulating in the community. I want to be clear that there will be no closures of schools in the 2023-24 school year, beyond the aforementioned closure of RBLC. The budget adjustments needed for the 2023-24 school year have already been made, and the committee’s work will be focused on budget reductions for the 2024-25 school year.

I will continue to provide updates as the committee’s work progresses.

Athletes vie for state titles in tennis, softball and track

As we head into the long weekend, our student athletes are vying for state titles on several fronts.

At the Class AA State Track and Field Meet in Butte, the Helena High Girls are defending their 2022 state title. The Bruin Boys are also vying for a title after winning the 2023 Western Divisional AA Championship.

Meanwhile, in Kalispell, defending tennis AA Tennis State Champ – Capital High Junior Ryan Ashley – is defending his boys singles title. Capital High’s Sammie McCutcheon also qualified for the state tennis tournament for the Bruin girls alongside Helena High’s Will Johnson for the Bengal boys and Qayl Kujala for the Bengal girls.

And right here at home at Batch Fields, the Helena High Bengals opened the AA State Softball tournament with their 17th win of the season over Great Falls. The Bengals are now playing in the quarter finals.

Best of luck to our Bengal and Bruin athletes!

This rainy evening is the perfect opportunity to take in a theater performance and tonight is the last chance to see “Rip Van Winkle,” presented by the Helena High Thespians. Doors open at 6:30 pm and the show begins at 7 pm.

As we pause to remember loved ones this weekend, I hope you are also able to make new memories with friends and family.


Signature: Rex M. Weltz

Rex Weltz, Superintendent
Helena Public Schools