No specific long-term educational goals were set during a near six-hour Helena School Board planning session Tuesday, but the group of trustees, teachers and administrators did request recommendations from the superintendent and his administrative staff.
“While we didn’t necessarily achieve our goal of having something concrete to take away, we did make positive progress,” said trustee Libbi Lovshin in her final comments to the group.
The meeting began in a teleconference with data analyst Chris Lohse, who pointed out areas of concern with student performance in the public schools of the Queen City.
Lohse used the MontCAS test, a statewide test given to students in third through eighth and 10th grades, to hone in on areas of concern.
Trustee Don Jones said the district may not have enough data to discuss what the district’s shortcomings are, nor their causes, to determine where changes need to take place.
Lohse said while more data may be needed, what is already available can be analyzed in different ways. Using MontCAS, the Helena district can be compared to other districts of comparable size. Low marks in math are one specific area of concern. Helena is only outpaced by Great Falls on the percentage of students not passing the subject.
“Helena is in a good place with the information collected,” he told the group, but added that it’s not in a perfect place.
Lohse recommended bringing all the evidence forward to gain a full understanding of what is going on in the schools — good and bad.
One approach, Lohse said, is to see if the percentage of students having success in core subjects is increasing over time districtwide. There are a growing number of students in Helena who are below the standard in reading scores, he pointed out.
While Lohse didn’t evaluate individual schools, he says there are some successes that could be shared throughout the district. Broadway Elementary, for instance, has seen a significant decrease in absences and tardies after it launched an “In School, On Time, Everyday” campaign.
In two weeks, Superintendent Keith Meyer said his administrative team will present specific district goals to improve the graduation rate and student performance.
Part of planning for the future includes a broad look at the district’s facilities.
Representatives with Mosaic Architecture, the firm to be awarded a contract for educational planning, were on hand to answer questions.
A formal presentation is scheduled for the Oct. 12 board meeting.
Public forums to collect information will be an initial step in the process, and Jeff Downhour with Mosaic says the company is tailoring the project for the Helena community.
Helena High alumnus Ben Tintinger, Mosaic’s principal and project coordinator, said brainstorming ideas and solutions will lay the critical foundation for a process that is estimated to take about 18 months or more.
“We understand the dynamics of the community and how complicated it’s going to be,” Downhour said. “Being open is going to help in the long run.”
Trustee Libby Goldes welcomed his statement, since transparency throughout the process will be citical for community buy-in and support.
Board chair Michael O’Neil said formulating the educational plan will help trustees determine where resources should go.
John Carter, director of support services, said every year the district is faced with more projects on the buildings than there is money for.
“We haven’t really done any projects to enhance educational learning,” he said.
Business Manager Kim Harris said even addressing some of the current building issues, such as overcrowding in the North Valley, can’t be fixed without voters approving a bond.
“In the end, the plan is not our plan, it’s the whole community’s plan, and (being open) will aid in the support of it,” O’Neil said.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org