Friday Update from Superintendent Weltz | May 31, 2024

In today’s update:

– Pre-registration now open for Helena Charter Schools
–  Celebrating our softball and track STATE CHAMPS!
– HEA names educator and paraeducator of the year
– Coaches Mike Miller and Jesse Zentz named Montana Coaches Association “Coach of the Year”
– Registration for free-of-charge early literacy preschool now open
– “Bad Bacon’s BBQ” wins food truck challenge
– “Sleeping Giant snoozes at Smith Elementary


Dear Helena Public Schools Families and Staff,

How about our Bengal and Bruin girls!

By now you know that the Bengals won the AA State Track Championship for the third year in a row in Great Falls last weekend!!! That’s not to mention the seven Helena Public Schools students who earned individual state championships (see complete results below under Student & Educator Recognitions).

And right here in Helena, where we made an 11th-hour scramble to host the Class AA Softball Tournament after heavy rain washed out fields in Belgrade, our Bruin girls clinched their first state championship since 2009.

To each of these talented athletes, congratulations! You have consistently represented our Helena community, your schools, your teams, and yourselves with grace and professionalism at the highest level.

And to each of the coaches, administrators, volunteers, parents and others who made this standout season possible – thank you.

We learned last night that not one, but two Helena Public Schools coaches were named statewide “Coach of the Year” for their sports yesterday by the Montana Coaches Association (MCA). Congratulations to Coaches Mike Miller, CHS Softball, and Jesse Zentz, HHS Girls Track! Along with state trophies, you have given your athletes an experience that will serve them wherever their futures take them and memories they will cherish for a lifetime.

We also have exciting educator awards to celebrate today!

Jen Mooney, teacher at Helena Middle School, and Christi Redmond, paraeducator at Kessler Elementary, were chosen this week as the Helena Education Association’s (HEA) Educator and Paraeducator of the Year!

These outstanding professionals were nominated by their colleagues, and I’m struck by the fact that both are admired for the relationships they build.

Math Teacher Jen Mooney “is exceptional at building relationships with students and colleagues,” wrote a nominator. “(She) opens up a world of mathematics to students who are often reluctant to take risks and problem solve.”

Jen Mooney is surprised with the HEA Educator of the Year Award.

Jen Mooney is surprised with the HEA Educator of the Year Award.

Ms. Mooney in a group photo with her sixth grad advanced math class at Helena Middle School.

Ms. Mooney with her sixth grad advanced math class at Helena Middle School.

I had the privilege of working with Ms. Mooney when I was principal of Rossiter Elementary and was able to witness first-hand her gift for connecting with students.

One of Ms. Redmond’s nominators wrote that “she greets students every day with a big hug and a smile.  Christi works with students with special needs and has great working relationships with them.  All the kids enjoy being around her and she truly enjoys working with the kids.”

Thank you, Ms. Mooney and Ms. Redmond, for representing the excellence that our Helena Public Schools educators are known for. Congratulations!

Paraeducator Christi Redmond was chosen this week as the Paraeducator of the Year by the Helena Education Association. Redmond poses in a group photo wearing a tiara and holding a bouquet of flowers.

Paraeducator Christi Redmond was chosen this week as the Paraeducator of the Year by the Helena Education Association.

Pre-registration now open for Helena Charter Schools

In district business, I want to share several pieces of exciting news for the 2024-25 school year.

Earlier this spring, we learned that our district was approved to open three charter schools. I’m pleased to announce that pre-registration for the 2024-25 school year is now open for one of these – the new “Mount Ascension Learning Academy.”

Before I get into specifics, a bit of background.

Helena Public Schools is among districts across Montana opening charter schools under House Bill 549 (HB 549) passed by the 2023 Legislature. HB 549 provided basic entitlement funding for public schools to offer non-traditional education models.

The legislation enabled our district to launch Mount Ascension this fall – offering a virtual and in-person learning options – and to build upon the success of two long-standing district programs – the Project for Alternative Learning (PAL) and Montessori.

These new public charter schools will function much like separate school districts, but will be governed by the Helena Public Schools Board of Trustees and operated by district administration and staff. Here’s a quick overview of each:

Mount Ascension Learning Academy 

The Mount Ascension Learning Academy will offer students in grades 6-12 a choice of virtual learning courses or a blend of virtual and in-person classes. Interested families will receive guidance to help identify the best learning options for their student’s needs. All courses will be taught by certified in-person and virtual instructors. Pre-register at

Montessori Charter School

The transition of Helena Public Schools’ long-standing Montessori program to a public charter school enabled the district to add a Montessori kindergarten class for the 2024-25 school year (The district’s pre-existing Montessori program offered grades 1-5 only). If you are interested in Montessori kindergarten for fall 2024, please pre-register as soon as possible to be entered into a lottery for a slot.

Project for Alternative Learning (PAL) Charter School

The transition of the district’s existing Project for Alternative Learning program to a charter school will allow for the addition of a 9th grade class for the 2025-26 school year. PAL currently offers grades 10-12 only.

In the coming years we hope to continue to expand our charter schools to offer these non-traditional, flexible learning models to more families.

Screenings offered for KinderSprouts public preschool

The 2023 Legislature also allocated dollars for school districts to open public preschool programs under House Bill 352.

The legislation enables us to offer public, free-of-charge preschool for students who need extra support to prepare for a successful start to kindergarten. As required by the legislation, students who would benefit from “early literacy intervention” are identified through a screening process. The screening looks for lags in skills such as alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness, listening comprehension and vocabulary and oral language – all of which are building blocks for reading. Eligibility for the early literacy intervention program under House Bill 352 is based solely on screening results and there is no income-level requirement.

Our district’s KinderSprouts early literacy pre-school program will open this fall, offering students half-day morning or afternoon sessions Monday through Friday. Caring relationships, hands-on activities and interactive play will help students develop the learning skills they need for a strong start to kindergarten and long-term academic success all way through graduation.

Free screenings will continue to be offered through the end of June. If you have a child who may benefit from KinderSprouts preschool please sign up for a free screening appointment as soon as possible.

Celebrating the Class of 2024

Finally, I want to congratulate our Helena Public Schools 2024 graduates and their families. Today we celebrated five “Access to Success” graduates and 33 Project for Alternative Learning (PAL) graduates in commencement ceremonies at Lincoln Center and Helena Middle School. Tomorrow we’ll hold Capital High and Helena High commencement ceremonies at the Carroll College PE Center.

Whether you’re a parent, a grandparent, a stepmom or stepdad, a friend, or a mentor to one of these graduates – each of you directly or indirectly helped your student reach this milestone.

Whatever role you played in your graduate’s success: Thank you. You are forever part of our Helena Public Schools community.

For our CHS and HHS families, we appreciate your cooperation with limits on the number of attendees per graduate, which are necessary to safely comply with fire code. We were unable to host commencement outdoors this year as Nelson Stadium undergoes a major renovation project. If you’re planning to watch a ceremony via livestream, please take a moment to bookmark the link tonight so you have it handy tomorrow morning:

Helena High School Commencement live stream

Capital High School Commencement live stream

Whether you’re honoring a graduate, celebrating your student’s last week of kindergarten, or are someplace in between, please take a moment to let your student know how proud you are of their hard work this school year.

And remember that next week is a short week! Thursday is the last day of school for grades K-11 with early dismissal at noon for grades K-8.

Enjoy this beautiful weekend!


Signature: Rex M. Weltz, Superintendent







Rex M. Weltz, Superintendent
Helena Public Schools


Student & Educator Recognitions

Individual track state champs

The following Bengal and Bruin athletes earned individual state championships at last weekend’s MHSA State Class AA Track Tournament! Congratulations!

HHS Girls
Madi Todorovich: 300 hurdles, 400

Logan Todorovich: 100, 100 hurdles, high jump, long jump

Reghan Skogen: Pole vault

Logan Todorovich, Hazel Bishop, Reghan Skogen, Madi Todorovich: 4×100 Relay

Hazel Bishop, Reghan Skogen, Evey Linden, Madi Todorovich: 4×400 Relay

CHS Boys

Gavin Mow: 110 Boys Hurdles

Tyler Crum: Javelin

State Tennis Tournament Results

Congratulations to our Bengal and Bruin tennis players for their stellar performance in the Class AA State Tennis Championships in Bozeman last weekend.

Capital High’s Ryan Ashley took second in boys singles. Ryan took fourth in singles as a freshman, was the state champion as a sophomore, and finished second his junior and senior years.

Helena High’s Qayl Kujala took second in girls singles. She was sixth as a freshman, fifth as a sophomore, and second as a junior last year.

Way to go Bengal and Bruin tennis athletes!

Sleeping Giant now napping at Smith Elementary 

Turns out the Sleeping Giant is a big reader! Acclaimed artist Leah Cupino, who is also a Smith Elementary School parent, depicted the giant snoozing with a book across his chest in an original work for the school’s library wall.

Titled “The Sleeping Giant’s Other Hobby,” the mural was installed on the library’s large, north-facing wall last week. Smith Librarian Hope Morrison reached out to Ms. Cupino when she learned that the library would be painted, covering a mural that had been there for many years.

“Leah had the idea to incorporate a bit of literary whimsy, adding an open book over the giant’s chest,” said Ms. Morrison. “I love that the book has no discernible title, so it can be whatever the viewer wants it to be. Ms. Cupino painted the original on a small canvas and had it reproduced by Signs Now on Last Chance Gulch on a giant linen-like scroll, similar to wallpaper.

The PTO organization “Parents for Smith School” helped fund the cost, and the original painting was auctioned off at the Smith School Family Night.

Sleep well Giant!

Photo of a man with a drill installing a large mural of the Sleeping Giant in the Smith Elementary library.

“Bad Bacon’s BBQ” wins business class food truck contest

“Bad Bacon’s BBQ,” a food truck with ’tude, brought home the bacon in Jessica Freeman’s first-period Small Business Management Class at Capital High.

The second-period class winner was “The Blue Macaw,” featuring “exquisite Brazilian cuisine” and offering a half-off special on Brazilian Independence Day.

Ms. Freeman challenged teams of students to create, design and pitch a new food truck business. Each group was required to develop a business name, logo, menu, menu design, kids’ menu, truck design and advertisements.

“The students also wrote a comprehensive business plan for their food truck,” said Ms. Freeman. “The students presented their ideas to volunteer judges.”

For now the desk-top trucks, fashioned of cardboard, are no bigger than a to-go box, but maybe one of these enterprising students will bring one to life someday!

Bad Bacon BBQ Team: Ainsley Tooke, Aeric Bacon and Boston Lay

Blue Macaw Team: Grace Mattern, Ty Moncur, Tori Summers


Photo of the Bad Bacon's BBQ carboard food truck model.

The “Bad Bacon’s BBQ” Food Truck.


Two female students and a male student pose with a poster board for their "Blue Macaw" food truck project.

The Blue Macaw Food Truck team at Capital High.