I’m excited to share with you an upcoming opportunity to offer educational choices to families in our community.
Last month Helena Public Schools, along with a number of other districts, submitted applications to establish charter schools under HB 549, which was passed by the 2023 Legislature and signed into law last spring. Sponsored by Rep. Fred Anderson (R-Great Falls) the legislation provides an avenue for public school districts to establish charter schools.
Allow me to clarify here that a separate piece of charter school legislation, HB 562, is under legal challenge by education advocates who argue it would unconstitutionally outsource public education, divert public school tax dollars to private schools, and exempt charter schools from a host of requirements that public schools must follow, such as teacher certification. A ruling is months away.
In the meantime, Anderson’s bill has drawn significant interest from public school districts, which filed numerous applications to establish charter schools in advance of a Nov. 1 deadline. The Board of Education will review submissions and announce those approved in January.
Helena Public Schools filed applications for three charter schools, two for existing programs and one for a new educational model:
Expanded Project for Alternative Learning (PAL) Charter School: The district’s existing PAL program provides an alternative learning environment for 10th through 12th grade students who need a smaller learning environment. PAL offers small group instruction, individualized learning plans and a strong sense of community. Hands-on, experiential learning gives students the opportunity to apply skills learned in the classroom to real-world settings. Charter school designation would allow more students to participate in this highly successful program.
Montessori Charter School: Helena Public Schools has offered its popular Montessori program for 44 years. Students work with specialized, hands-on educational materials during extended blocks of time in classrooms. Multiple grade levels work together and parent participation is emphasized, with the Montessori experience tailored to each family’s needs. However, only a limited number of students are able to participate, with admission based on a lottery system. Charter designation would serve as a foundation on which to begin expanding program capacity, including the addition of an early childhood Montessori offering, with the goal of allowing more students to participate in the future.
Mount Ascension Learning Academy: This new, hybrid program would offer a choice of online learning or a blend of virtual/in-person instruction to students in grades 6 through 12. The program would serve students who may benefit from a flexible, personalized and self-paced learning environment, which would include Explore School offered through Exploration Works. Mount Ascension would provide educational programming and services that will not be offered by online schools with no connection to our community.
As noted, charter school status would allow us to enhance and ultimately expand our existing PAL and Montessori programs and offer families a new educational model through the Mount Ascension Learning Academy. It would also positively impact state funding for the district’s General Fund, which is where we currently face a significant deficit. I look forward to keeping you informed as we further develop these plans.
On the topic of new educational opportunities, I would like to share an exciting new offering for students from our community partners at Helena College.
High school juniors and seniors are now eligible to take the Emergency Medical Technician class (ECP 130) at Helena College at reduced cost. Completing the ECP 130 course will prepare students to pursue EMT licensure and get a jump start on careers in healthcare and emergency services. Classes begin in January 2024. To register, scan the QR code below. Please also see the flyer at the end of this newsletter. We’re grateful to Helena College for making this new Career and Technical Education (CTE) opportunity available!
Another vital community partner for our schools is law enforcement. Last spring, the district teamed up with the Helena Police Department to launch the “Handle With Care” program to support students who experience traumatic incidents outside of school hours.
Handle With Care provides a process for law enforcement to promptly notify school officials when a student witnesses a traumatic event outside of school hours, for example a domestic violence incident and/or the arrest of a family member. The responding officer can confidentially notify district administration through the web-based Handle With Care portal, which came online last spring. The district does not receive any information about the incident; we simply learn the student’s name and can then let their principal, teacher, school counselor or other relevant staff know that the student may need extra support and compassion when they return to the classroom, be it the following morning or sometime later.
So far this school year, the district has received 58 Handle With Care notifications from law enforcement, illustrating the need for this simple, yet powerful way to support students facing adversity. By meeting students where they are emotionally, we can provide resources to keep them on track in the classroom and help them heal. Thank you, Helena Police Chief Brett Petty and staff, for all you do to support our students.
I also have a correction to share. In my October 13 Friday update, I incorrectly reported the winner of the Crosstown Volleyball game. Helena High won 3-1. My sincerest apologies and congratulations to the Bengals. And please join me in cheering on both the Bengals and the Bruins as they head to Butte this weekend to compete for a berth in the State Volleyball Tournament next week! Please also join me in cheering for our athletes who will compete in the State Special Olympics Basketball Tournament to be hosted here in Helena starting Thursday. Go teams!
I hope you will also give a round of applause to our Bengal and Bruin thespians, whose crosstown play, “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” opens this Thursday, Nov. 9. As you prepare for Thanksgiving, which is now just three weeks away, you’ll find comic relief in this holiday play about a troublesome houseguest. Tickets are now available.
Thanks for all you do to support your student or students and your public schools!
Rex M. Weltz, Superintendent
Helena Public Schools