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Much is made of ours being among the best small arts towns in America. In addition, we have a stable economy, a glorious landscape with wonderful recreational activities, access to quality health care and the list goes on. Forbes magazine recently identified Helena among the Top 10 Best Small Cities to Raise a Family.

Forbes only confirms what most of us who live here already know, but it’s always nice to be validated on such a large scale. Criteria used by Forbes included “solid average incomes, good educational prospects, low costs, short commute times and high rates of home ownership,” which brings us to our point — Helena’s educational prospects.

Our public schools are doing a fine job of educating more than 8,000 children in our community. We believe the teachers and administrators throughout the school district strive to meet the diverse needs and learning styles of all our students. Public school employees work hard with families to counsel and guide the youth of our community. A little research reveals a host of ways the Helena Public Schools with the support of parents, business partners and the community stretch to meet the needs of our children in exciting and innovative ways.

As business folks interested in a vibrant community with a well-educated work force, we believe our Helena Public Schools (K-12) provide high quality instruction aligned with state content standards at all grade levels. We are pleased to know that the schools offer a diverse set of elective courses which appeal to the interests of the students and the arts and activities programs enhance the critical thinking and creativity of the students as they grow and learn.

Having watched children grow up and attend schools in Helena for many years, we have seen how our city’s two high schools offer students a wide range of programs that help them prepare for good careers, job opportunities and post-secondary education. And we are proud that Helena students excel in academics and outside activities and many earn scholarships to pursue their interests in a variety of colleges.

We, of course, share the concerns of teachers, administrators, school trustees and parents with the dropout rate, not just in Helena but across our state and nation. We compliment the school district for its recent launch of a successful program in partnership with the University of Montana — Helena (Access for Success) which provides an opportunity for young adults who dropped out of high school to complete their diploma and begin college classes. This is a very positive and innovative step. We urge the community at-large to take an active role and become engaged in making significant improvements in this critical situation.

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As business leaders, employers, parents and community members, we celebrate Helena’s quality public school system that welcomes all students. To keep our economy growing and attracting business opportunities with good paying jobs and to improve our quality of life, let’s continue to work together — making Helena not just one of the best small arts towns in America, but a community with one of the best public education programs as well.

Kathy Ernst is general manager of Beartooth NBC-TV. Howard Skjervem is Helena area manager for NorthWestern Energy. John Solheim is president and CEO of St. Peter’s Hospital. Jim Stipcich is president and CEO of Student Assistance Foundation.

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