Friday Update from Superintendent Weltz | February 9, 2024

In Today’s Letter

  • Share your thoughts: Complete the Helena Public Schools Parent/Family Survey
  • CRA students earn national designation for Mann Gulch Overlook Trail
  • Helena hosts State AA Orchestra Festival and National Speech & Debate Qualifier
  • Drama students head to Montana Thespian Festival
  • Good luck at State to our swimmers and wrestlers!
  • HHS’s Katryn Seliskar named National Honor Society Scholarship Semifinalist
  • Two key sets of recommendations on Tuesday’s Board of Trustees agenda


Dear Families and Staff,

While spring still feels like a distant promise, two winter sports seasons are already wrapping up at state tournaments this weekend.

Best of luck to our Bengal and Bruin swimmers, who are competing for the state title in Great Falls today and tomorrow, and to our wrestlers, who are going to the mat for the state trophy in Billings.

And best wishes to our Speech & Debate teams, who are hosting the National Speech & Debate Association Qualifier Tournament here in Helena this weekend.Student musicians rehearse for the State AA Music Festival held in Helena this week.

Earlier this week, some 60 orchestra and band students participated in the State AA Orchestra Festival at the Helena Civic Center, rehearsing and performing pieces from Bach, Mendelssohn and other composers under the direction of Boise Philharmonic Youth Orchestra Music Director Jennifer Drake. And next week, drama students will head to Missoula to compete at the Montana Thespian Festival at the University of Montana.

These are the kind of opportunities to learn and grow that our students experience throughout the year at Helena Public Schools.

CRA students make history

Educators are the catalyst for these experiences, and today I want to recognize two innovative teachers who helped their students leave their footprint on Montana history.The cast of "Cut," a play written by Ed Monk, which will be performed by HHS at the Montana Thespian Festival.

Since this fall, CRA teachers Dick McMahon and Shannon Thomas have led a group of volunteer students in an effort to add the Mann Gulch Overlook Trail to the National Recreational Trail Registry. This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the fire that cost 13 smokejumpers their lives.

The intrepid team of student volunteers gave up lunch twice a week to learn the history of the Mann Gulch Fire, hiked the trail to gather information, and completed the detailed application process.

The U.S. Forest Service surprised students with the news that their application was approved Tuesday evening following a community presentation on their project at the Lewis & Clark Library.

Thank you, Mr. McMahon, Ms. Thomas and students for honoring this tragic and relevant chapter in Montana’s history. And thank you to KTVH and the Independent Record for capturing this historic moment for our students.Image of clippings from KTVH and Independent Record stories on CRA students getting the Mann Gulch Overlook Trail added to the National Trail Registry.

Ski Days are here!

CRA middle schoolers also explored the great outdoors at Great Divide this week.

Every year, every 5th, 6th and 7th grader in Helena Public Schools has the opportunity to spend a day at Great Divide. Students take a free ski lesson before testing their skills on the slopes. This opportunity is made possible by the generosity of Great Divide and donations from parents. Thanks to KTVH for joining the fun yesterday. Helena Middle School will hit the slopes later this month.

Italian guitarist visits CRA

In another recent highlight at CRA, world-renowned Italian guitarist Luca Stricagnoli, who was in town for International Guitar Night at The Myrna Loy, stopped by Kevin Cleary’s music tech class. Mr. Stricagnoli played a few tunesItalian guitarist Luca Stricagnoli visits CRA Middle School. on his reversed triple neck guitar and talked all things music with the mixed-grade class. Many thanks to The Myrna Loy arts education outreach program.

Helena High’s Katryn Seliskar named NHS Semifinalist

We also have exciting academic news to celebrate this week. Helena High Senior Katryn Seliskar has been selected as a National Honor Society (NHS) Scholarship Semifinalist. Katryn joins an elite group of 575 semifinalists nationwide who will receive a $3,200 scholarship.

Recipients are chosen based on NHS’ four pillars: scholarship, service, leadership and character.

“Katryn exemplifies the spirit of service and what it means to be a Bengal,” wrote NHS Co-advisor Meghan Schulte. “She is incredibly generous with her time and strives to build connections with all of her classmates.”

Headshot of Katryn SeliskarKatryn has been a key member of the HHS volleyball and softball teams, participated in several service activities through NHS, and led various youth camps. She has also been integral to establishing a peer tutoring program for HHS’s English Language Learner students. This fall, she hopes to attend Montana State University to study psychology and Spanish.

Congratulations, Katryn!

Two key items on Board of Trustees agenda

I want to touch on a couple key items on the agenda for Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Helena Public Schools Board of Trustees.

Trustees will receive two sets of recommendations Tuesday that will help guide short-term and long-term decision making.

 Budget Recommendation Consensus Committee suggestions

On the financial front, Trustees will receive recommendations from the Budget Recommendation Consensus Committee. This Committee of district stakeholders – parents, students, educators, union representatives, community members and others – was formed last spring as part of the district’s measured and transparent approach to addressing the budget shortfall faced by our district and other Montana AAs.

The Committee followed an established process, the “Chadwick model,” that is widely used by organizations – from schools, to local governments, to business – to find resolution on complex issues.

On Tuesday, Trustees will receive recommendations for bringing the district’s budget in line with revenue under two scenarios – budget cuts necessary if spring funding levies pass and recommendations for deeper cuts if the levies fail.

I want to be clear that none of us want to take the measures the Committee is recommending – not our school administrators, not our Trustees, and certainly not those who served on the Committee. We would all prefer to continue with our current levels of quality programming and staffing to serve our students.

However, the Committee was able to use the consensus-building process to collectively move forward with an agreed-upon, albeit unwanted, set of recommendations. We’re tremendously grateful for the time put in by our volunteer Committee members and for their open-mindedness as we took on this difficult work.

Trustees will review and discuss the recommendations over multiple meetings, all of which, as always, will be open to the public and will include opportunity for public comment.

Going forward, the best interests of students will remain our highest priority as we address the funding shortfall hurting Montana’s public schools.

Draft Facilities Master Plan – Guiding Document 

A second stakeholders’ group was instrumental in the development of the Draft Facilities Master Plan (FMP), which will also be presented to Trustees Tuesday evening.

The FMP is not focused on any one school. Rather, it assesses our facilities as a whole, districtwide, and makes recommendations for each facility based on that facility’s relation to the whole. The FMP will enable the district to make informed, strategic and sound decisions that will provide optimal learning environments for all students across our community.

Here again, the Board of Trustees will consider the FMP over the course of multiple public meetings.

Information on Tuesday’s Board meeting, including how to participate online, is available at this link. We appreciate all who have taken time to share their input and encourage our community to continue to participate in these important decisions going forward.

Complete the District Parent/Family Survey

We’ve covered a lot of ground today and last, but certainly not least, want to get your feedback on your family’s experience with Helena Public Schools.

Please take a moment to complete the Helena Public Schools Parent/Family Survey. It takes less than five minutes and will provide us with valuable feedback.

Thank you for all you do to support our Helena Public Schools.


Signature: Rex M. Weltz

Rex M. Weltz, Superintendent
Helena Public Schools