East Helena Public Schools officials are working to “provide a high school where everyone knows your name and where there are no cracks to get lost in.”
That's according to Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer, who joined East Valley Middle School Principal Dan Rispens during a public question-and-answer session earlier this week to answer the community's questions about the new high school coming to East Helena.
While all of the details are subject to change, here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the school and the responses provided by Whitmoyer, Rispens or the FAQ put together by the district.
Who pays for this school?
Voters approved a $29.5 million bond in May 2018, with 62 percent of the community voting to pay for a new high school.
Does the school have a name?
Yes. The East Helena school board approved the name East Helena High School at its regular board meeting in November. The board also approved the school’s official mascot: The Vigilante.
Where will this school be located?
East Helena High School will be located on a 35-acre portion of Dartman Field. The property is located just north of the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue station in East Helena. The land was purchased for $207,444, which came out of the $29.5 million bond. Voters approved the purchase of this land in a special election. The land officially came into the district’s hands in early November.
When will construction begin on East Helena High School? When will it be completed?
A groundbreaking ceremony and the beginning of construction is currently slated for March 2019. Superintendent Whitmoyer hopes construction will be complete in August 2020. Construction is expected to take 15 months.
When will students be able to start school here?
The East Helena school district will welcome its first freshman class in fall 2019. This class will take high school coursework at East Valley Middle School. These freshman will be in the new wing of the middle school and will operate independent of EVMS. There will be no sophomore, junior or senior class in the 2019-20 school year. This first freshman class will go through East Helena High School and be the first sophomore, junior and senior class. In fall 2020, when the high school is scheduled to be complete, these freshmen will be sophomores and a new freshman class will be brought into the school. The school will continue in this manner until the 2022-23 school year, when East Helena High School will have grades nine through 12 in the school for the first time.
What will the school’s maximum population be?
East Helena High School’s maximum student population will be approximately 640 students. Whitmoyer said no more than 135 students will be able to attend the first year freshman class. He expects between 90 and 100 to actually enroll. Whitmoyer said that if a significantly higher number of students seek enrollment then they will have to be turned away. Whitmoyer said the district is trying to ease into the first class and have to ensure they have adequate resources to educate students. As the years go on, each class size will increase as necessary.
What will be the out-of-district student policy?
Whitmoyer made it clear that this school is obligated to serve East Helena students first. The school board will establish out-of-district tuition for the high school in the future. It will likely be a slight increase from the middle school tuition. Most out-of-district students will not be accepted into the school while enrollment is limited in the early years. All current out-of-district students will be grandfathered into the district. “They won’t be asked to leave,” Whitmoyer said. This district will likely have to turn away some out-of-district students at first.
When can I register my student for enrollment in East Helena High School?
Currently, the district is aiming to have enrollment begin in February 2019.
Will East Helena High School be accredited?
Yes. The East Helena school board recently drafted a letter to the Office of Public Instruction and the Board of Public Education requesting to start the accreditation process. Whitmoyer said the district is currently completing a checklist of items necessary for accreditation. He expects the school to receive full accreditation prior to fall 2019.
What will East Helena High School’s graduation requirements entail?
The East Helena school district is tentatively considering a 22 credit requirement for graduation. This is slightly higher than the 21 credits required by the state. The current curriculum will have students taking 15.5 required credits and 6.5 elective credits.
In what sports classification will the school compete?
Currently, the Montana High School Association is recommending East Helena High School for the class A southeast conference. Initially, the district requested to be placed in the class A southwest conference due to the shorter travel distance for games. However, the decision is ultimately up to the Montana High School Association.
What sports and extracurricular activities will be available?
The district has made a commitment to offer all of the Montana High School Association sanctioned sports. These include football, basketball, volleyball, track, cross country, wrestling, softball, tennis and golf. Other extracurricular activities will be offered as warranted by student interest, including band, chorus, speech, student council, National Honor Society, Future Farmers of American, Business Professional of America and rodeo club.
What schools will East Helena High School play?
East Helena Athletic Director Kevin VanNice is working with the Montana High School Association class A director to begin the early planning for the fall competition schedule next year. Class A games and competition will be ready for East Helena by next fall, but not necessarily conference teams. Most freshman students will be against other class A freshman students. Competition for freshman students, no matter the class, will be appropriate for their skill level and close to their own age students. Possible class A conference teams include Livingston, Laurel, Billings Central, Lockwood and Hardin.
Will cheerleading/drill team be offered?
Will there be freshman level honors courses and dual-enrollment offered?
Yes, there will be classes available for honors credit. The school is also working toward offering classes for AP credit for upper-level students when the time comes. Currently, the school is working closely with Helena College and Carroll College to offer dual-enrollment credit options.
Will bus service be available?
Yes. The district will offer bus services to freshmen in the East Valley Middle School building in 2019 and to the new high school building beginning in 2020.
Will there be a bus service available to Helena High School?
The East Helena school district is independent of the Helena school district, so no bus service to Helena High or Capital High will be offered for freshmen next year.
Will there be school dances and pep rallies?
Yes. The district is working cooperatively with the new administrator, and East Helena High School staff will begin building traditions and events for high school students exclusive from the middle school.
Is it mandatory that students attend East Helena High School if they live within the East Helena school district?
No. The State of Montana allows students to attend schools outside of their home district through a mutually acceptable out-of-district tuition agreement.
Will the East Helena High School at East Valley Middle School be considered a closed campus for freshmen?
Will freshmen have an opportunity to take driver’s education?
The district is making efforts to offer driver’s education to their students. The program should be up and running no later than spring or summer of 2020.
What academic support services will be available for students?
The district will offer tutoring before and after school in the same way it does currently at other schools. Daytime study hall options will be available. Title 1, 504 and special education services for high school students will also be offered.
Will students have a “homeroom”?
Currently, the district is still considering the options for this topic. Many believe the idea of a “homeroom” may be too “middle school” for high school students. The district is exploring the possibility of adopting a school advisory program, which can help cover topics such as careers, digital citizenship, suicide prevention and social skills help.
Will there be parent/teacher conferences?
Parent/teacher conferences are not common in the high school setting. The district is looking into options in this area.
Will there be an academic counselor to assist in assessments and college/career readiness support?
Yes. Part of the district’s plan is to have a vice principal and counselor who would start with incoming freshmen at East Valley Middle School and then transition with them to East Helena High School.
What will the daily schedule look like?
For the 2019-20 year, the schedule will need to resemble the middle school schedule due to sharing staff and facilities. A new high school schedule for 2020-21 is a work in progress.
Will East Helena students participate in the Vigilante Parade?
The Vigilante Parade is sponsored and organized by Helena Public Schools. In the past, only Helena school district students have been allowed to participate due to supervision and liability concerns. It is too early to say whether East Helena students would be able to participate. However, both school boards are planning to work together on transition issues.
If my child chooses to attend Helena High, and then wants to transfer back to East Helena, will that be allowed?
Yes. District residents will always be able to return to their home school. Nonresident students will have to re-apply for their nonresident status.
What kind of wages will be offered to staff the school?
Whitmoyer said teacher salaries in East Helena are competitive across the state. He said East Helena is between Butte, on the low end, and Bozeman, on the high end, of salary ranges. This puts East Helena in the top third for teacher wages in the state. Whitmoyer said the goal is to attract the best teachers possible for students. Many positions may be filled by current district teachers who want to move up to a high school setting, but they will recruit out of the district to attract the best talent possible.