Year-End Staff Message from Superintendent Weltz | June 8, 2023

Dear Helena Public Schools Staff,

Thank you for making the 2022-23 school year a success. As the weeks have flown by fast, it’s easy to lose sight of all that we have accomplished together, so I’d like to share some highlights:

  • The district returned to a full slate of music and theater performances, sports schedules, school programs, field trips and guest presenters in 2023. Meanwhile, student and parent engagement in extracurricular activities is up. Students took home state sports championships, earned top honors in music and theater, and traveled to national competitions for student clubs. A huge thank you to our staff who made these achievements possible.
  • Helena Public Schools students and teachers earned recognitions for academic excellence at the local, state and national level this school year. Educators continued to participate in professional development opportunities. In fact, Helena Public Schools had Montana’s highest number of educators earning National Board Certification in 2022-23.
  • From food drives, to planting trees, to mentoring younger peers, our students completed hundreds of hours of volunteer work to serve our community in 2022-23. Thank you to the staff and volunteers who made these learning experiences possible.
  • Our Transportation Department returned to a full bus service schedule last fall, overcoming the national bus driver shortage. Thank you to our Transportation team for all you do to get students to and from school and activities safely.
  • Much progress was made in the area of school safety this year through drills, installation of safety technology and active shooter training in coordination with the Helena Police Department. More training and activities are planned this summer. While each of these safety initiatives is vital, equally important is fostering a culture of safety and we’re seeing that culture take root. Safety will remain a top focus in 2023-24 and beyond.
  • The district strengthened and enhanced our student threat assessment protocol and provided training to consistently implement the changes districtwide.
  • A big piece of enhancing school safety is modernizing buildings to meet today’s needs, such as adding air conditioning to make classrooms comfortable with doors and windows closed. These needs are being addressed through the Master Facilities Planning process, which is slated to be delivered to the Board of Trustees this fall. The Master Facilities Plan will ensure that we’re making wise use of resources to meet the district’s facilities needs today, tomorrow and into the future.
  • In 2022-23, Helena Public Schools launched a grant-funded “school health grant facilitator” position held by long-time HPS educator and administrator Lona Carter. Her work has already resulted in the following:
    • Successful launch of the Rural Behavioral Health Initiative Mental Health Screening process for grades 6-12. The program includes same-day mental health care for students with high risk of suicidality.
    • Three new school-based behavioral health clinics to open in early 2023-24.
    • A signed Memorandum of Understanding with Carroll College to launch a partnership to serve students through the college’s new Licensed Clinical Social Worker program in 2023-24.

See more details on the district’s 2022-23 mental health initiatives in the May 19 staff newsletter.

  • In partnership with the Helena Police Department, Helena Public Schools implemented the “Handle with Care” program in spring 2023 to help school staff support students who have witnessed traumatic events in which police were dispatched at home or elsewhere outside of school.
  • Together with our public education advocacy partners, the district worked throughout the 2023 Legislative Session to support bills that were favorable to public education and to deflect those that would do harm. In 2023-24 the district will continue its work to address state and federal funding models that no longer keep pace with the needs of Montana’s AA schools. In a couple highlights from the 2023 Session:
    • The Legislature passed HB 352, which funds targeted intervention for improved literacy beginning at age 4. The goal is to increase the number of students who are reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Watch for more information on the “Kinder Sprouts” program to kick off in 2023-24 at Bryant Elementary!
    • The Legislature passed HB 332, which would establish a statewide school health insurance trust as an option for districts seeking to manage health insurance costs. This bill awaits the Governor’s signature.
  • In May, the Helena community showed its appreciation and support for all that our educators do by passing the Elementary General Fund Levy and the 10-Year Building Reserve levies. Going forward, the district will continue to seek needed funding.
  • The district doubled down on financials this year, developing a comprehensive five-year financial forecast that has given the district a deeper understanding and ability to project our financial future than we have ever had.
  • Most importantly, in 2022-23, students at all levels made gains in reading and math. This is due to the hard work of our educators and all who support them. You are making a difference and it is appreciated.

In addition to celebrating these accomplishments, I want to address the obvious: The 2023-24 school year and those to follow will be different. Many of you are already preparing for larger class sizes, combo classes, location changes and other adjustments and I appreciate your flexibility. As we move forward, I continue to welcome your input and creative ideas for preserving student programming to the fullest extent possible. I also want to reiterate that there will be no sweeping program cuts, reductions in staff (except through attrition) or additional school closures in 2023-24.

Above all, I want to share that I remain optimistic.

While we face challenges, we also have much to look forward to in 2023-24 as we build on the accomplishments listed above. I am determined that we will not let the budget shortfall define our district. We’ve been through hard times together before and we will continue to make our Helena Public Schools a positive place to learn, work and grow in 2023-24.

Please enjoy this wonderful, well-deserved summer.

For my part, “Papa Rex” is looking forward to meeting my youngest grandson, one-year-old Wyatt, and reuniting with his big brother William, 3, as my son and daughter-in-law visit from Germany.  I hope you’ve scheduled in lots of time to make new memories with your families.


Signature: Rex M. Weltz

Rex Weltz, Superintendent
Helena Public Schools