MT bus drivers to get criminal background checks

Yesterday the Montana Board of Public Education passed a new rule that will require every bus driver in the state to undergo a criminal background check.

File that news under: Long Overdue.

But is this really necessary? Why yes it is. A recent legislative audit of the 2011-’12 school year turned up 64 bus drivers who had criminal histories. Two of these had been convicted of drunken driving within the previous three years.

That’s only a very small percentage of Montana’s nearly 1,500 drivers – but still, it’s not something I think we want to risk. Not when it comes to transporting Montana’s school children to school and back safely. None of these drivers should have recent drunken driving convictions. And none of them should have recently had their licenses suspended.

So good on the Education Board for finally making background checks a requirement.

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Business Leaders’ Summit on Early Childhood Education


Apologies for the crumminess of this photo, which doesn’t do the venue justice at all. It was taken during a brief break between speakers who kept this amateur photographer too engaged to take photos while they were on stage.

This morning business and education leaders from all over Montana – about 200 in all, I’d say – gathered in Missoula at the Hilton Garden Inn to discuss the importance of early childhood education. The lineup included Gov. Steve Bullock, Phyllis Washington, Paul Tough, Mike Halligan, Larry Simkins.

The audience included noted named in the Montana business and education communities, including University of Montana President Royce Engstrom, Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Alex Apostle, Montana Chamber of Commerce head Webb Brown … the list goes on.

And Alice and I were among them! She was there to cover the summit for the Missoulian and I was just noodling around for an editorial.

While Montana’s governor gave the keynote and Phyllis Washington (of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation) was among the first to speak, the standout speech of the summit was delivered by Paul Tough, a journalist, speaker and author of “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.” He talked at length about the different traits that drive success, and how they intersect with different approaches to early education.

Read all about it – and more – in Alice’s thorough report, which includes a link to the Montana Budget and Policy Center’s very interesting (no, really!) report on pre-kindergarten.

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Kindergarten registration starts tomorrow!

Kindergarten is the first step of an important journey. For many Missoula families, preparation for that journey begins tomorrow with the first day of kindergarten … registration, that is.

If your kiddo is going to be 5 years old before Sept. 10 this year, gather up those documents (birth certificate, proof of immunization, proof of residence) and get yourself to school ASAP. Kindergarten roundup starts next month, and you don’t want to miss it!

More information for Missoula County Public Schools district families here.

Details for Hellgate Elementary school district families here.

Not sure which district you live in? Look up the school attendance boundaries for MCPS here.

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Bozeman schools get longer day, shorter year. Should we?

Looks like Bozeman schools are going ahead with a new plan to add 10 minutes to each school day, meaning the overall school year will be six days shorter.

The biggest difference? Parents will no longer have to contend with weekly “early out” days. These days are the bane of parents who have to scramble to find kid care that covers these extra hours.

In Missoula, the early out days for Missoula County Public Schools are Thursdays. For elementary school kiddos (the ones who are young enough to absolutely require the presence of an adult outside of school hours), this means the school day ends at 2 p.m. each Thursday.

Which is actually kind of nice for some younger students, such as kindergartners, for whom the school day is already rather long.

Hmm. Should Missoula consider doing what Bozeman did? What do you think? What would be the pros and cons?

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Tester talks education in Washington with Montana school leaders

Yesterday Montana’s Sen. Jon Tester met with elementary school leaders from Montana in Washington, D.C.

The occasion was the Senate’s consideration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is due for reauthorization. It was last reauthorized in 2002, and allocates federal fund for primary and secondary public education.

At the meeting Tester, himself a former elementary school teacher, laid out his support for the act and his intention to vote for reauthorization.

“Making smart investments in early learning is the best way to prepare our children for future success,” Tester said in a prepared statement. “Giving kids an early boost will pay big dividends down the road.  By focusing on early childhood education and improving school readiness, we are strengthening the future our state and our nation.”

According to Tester’s office:

Tester recently co-sponsored The Strong Start for America’s Children Act, which expands young Montanans’ access to early childhood education.  The bill increases investments in initiatives that provide high-quality pre-school to low- and moderate-income families.

Joining Tester in his Washington, D.C. office were Kirk Miller (Helena), Executive Director of School Administrators of Montana, Matthew Lewis (Lewistown), Principal of Highland Park & Garfield Elementary Schools and President of the Montana Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals (MAEMSP), Dean Jardee (Vaughn), Principal of Vaughn Schools and 1st VP, David Wick (Columbia Falls), Principal of Columbia Falls Junior High, and Carole McKittrick (Great Falls), Principal of Mountain View Elementary School and Federal Relations Coordinator.

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Indian Education for All conference happening in Missoula. Like, right now.

Notice a lot of educators – say, 260 or so – milling around the Hilton Garden Inn today?

It’s because the eighth annual Indian Education for All Best Practices Conference is happening AS I WRITE THIS!

Read on for more:

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Educator Appreciation Weekend coming up at Big Sky

The snow is still coming down, down, down and the kids at my house are happy to play outside in it all day. Last night Willow rolled a giant snowball down the length of our street. Landon spent hours hard at work with a shovel building some sort of trail that winds through the yard.

The folks at Big Sky Resort want Montana’s educators to plan on spending some snow play time with them. They’re offering another Educator Appreciation Weekend from March 21-25 that includes discounts for teachers and their families. Kids 10 and younger ski free if their families are lodging at the resort, and educators get discounts on lodging and group lessons.


Educators are eligible to receive over 50% discount lodging rates at the slopeside Huntley Lodge, including breakfast, and save 15% on snowsport lessons. Identification of employment for education institution will be required at check in. Kids age ten and younger ski free when lodging with Big Sky Central Reservation properties and have free access with reservations at the Big Sky’s Kids Club.

In conjunction with the Educator Weekend, Saturday, March 22, is Big Sky Resort’s Sunset Saturdays when the Ramcharger chairlift stays open until 5:00pm. Friday, March 21 and Saturday, March 22, Jerry Joseph & Jack Mormons will be playing at Whiskey Jack’s.

To learn more about the Educator Appreciation Weekend, visit for more information.



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7-member MT Board of Regents now has 2 openings

First, Montana Sen. Max Baucus was appointed U.S. Ambassador to China.

Then, Gov. Steve Bullock appointed his lieutenant governor, John Walsh, to complete Baucus’s term in the Senate.

Then, Bullock appointed Angela McLean, chair of the Montana Board of Regents, to become lieutenant governor.

Gov. Steve Bullock with Lt. Gov. Angela McLean

Gov. Steve Bullock with Lt. Gov. Angela McLean

Now, he needs to appoint someone to fill McLean’s seat on the Board of Regents. Actually, he needs to appoint two someones because there are two open seats now that Regent Todd Buchanan’s term has expired.

That’s a whole lot of appointing going on.

McLean’s name is a familiar one in education circles. Here’s more on her background, from the announcement just out of the Governor’s Office today:

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Montana Board of Education meets tomorrow

… but the meeting’s in Helena.

The state Board of Education meeting, convened by Gov. Steve Bullock, will cover updates on Bullock’s education priorities and further discussion of those priorities.

“The Montana State Board of Education is a constitutionally mandated board comprised of the members of the Board of Regents and the Board of Public Education, with the Governor serving as the chair,” says the news release.

So, if you find yourself near the Capitol Building in Helena tomorrow at about 1:30 p.m., drop by Room 317 and take a listen.

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Money money money! For Montana schools

Today the governor of Montana announced a whole heckuva lotta grant money for improving schools throughout the state.

The grants are from the Quality Schools Planning Grants Program. Missoula’s elementary district is set to get $25,000 and Missoula’s high schools will get another $25,000. Read on for the complete list of totals for 36 different districts throughout Montana:

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