Anaconda, like Missoula, grappling with future of schools

As practically anyone in the Missoula County Public Schools district knows by now, we’re in the middle of this big facilities planning process that’s meant to result in a plan for the future of our schools.

It’ll most likely result in a mill levy request, too.

Changing enrollment, aging buildings, new technology uses, different safety and security concerns – all are part of the process, and the district is looking for every opportunity to get the wider community engaged.

Meanwhile, our fellow Montanans in Anaconda are weighing whether to close and consolidate some schools – an idea that saw an impassioned backlash at yesterday’s school board meeting.

Then, of course, we have Lolo set to start voting this week on whether to build a new K-4 facility.

Maybe our different communities can learn something from watching one another deal with some common challenges.

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Missoula may be moving its schools around

Kudos to the 40 or so parents who came to the community listening session offered by Missoula County Public Schools last night. They – and the Missoulian – got the scoop on the district’s long-range facilities planning process, including ideas to relocate some schools.

For one, someone floated the idea of moving Lowell Elementary School into the Missoula Mercantile building in downtown Missoula. Another idea was to move Washington Middle School into the Missoula College building on South Avenue after the college moves to its new digs on Broadway.

The desire to do some shuffling comes from the district’s enrollment projections, which show most schools in Missoula getting sizable increases in students in the foreseeable future. Some schools have already exceeded their recommended capacity and are now at overflow levels.

My kids are in an overflow school right now, so the idea of leveling out the number of students appeals to me – in theory. The idea of moving our school – or attending a different school – not so much.

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Lots of interest in planning for future of Missoula’s schools

Missoula County Public Schools continues to plow through its facilities planning process, a thing that has all the potential in the world for being dry and boring and poorly attended.

Which is why I love to see photos like this:

KURT WILSON/Missoulian

KURT WILSON/Missoulian

 

Now that’s participation!

Look at all these people interested in the future of Missoula’s schools and students.

They’re putting deep thought into things like “dynamic educational environments” and “various models of school organization.”

And they’re not nearly done yet.

Tomorrow’s the next big opportunity for public involvement, as MCPS communications head Hatton Littman wrote in yesterday’s opinion in the Missoulian. To join in, just show up at the next Community Listening Session on Wednesday, 6:30-8 p.m. at the Broadway Inn Hotel and Conference Center, 1609 W. Broadway.

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Crowded students and long-range school facilities planning

I seem to remember some years ago, before I had kids in school, that Missoula County Public Schools student enrollment was in steep decline. As recently as 2004, MCPS was closing entire schools.

Now, enrollment is increasing so much that schools – including Rattlesnake, Lowell and Russell – have had to tack on extra classrooms to accommodate extra classes of students.

The new modular building at Rattlesnake is pretty nice. It looks like this:

TOM BAUER/Missoulian

But at least 200 more elementary students, 100 more middle-school students, and almost 30 high-school students are projected to join MCPS within the next four years. That would be a lot of modulars.

Fortunately, MCPS is currently entering the second phase of its facilities planning process. The process casts a wide net over the future of Missoula’s public schools, and fluctuations in student enrollment numbers is only one consideration.

A guest column from MCPS’s Hatton Littman will be on tomorrow’s Opinion page; it urges the larger Missoula community to get engaged with the process.  It also notes that the next Community Listening Session will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 6:30-8 p.m. at the Broadway Inn Hotel and Conference Center at 1609 W. Broadway.

Consider attending. If you can’t, however, there are other ways to get involved, starting here.

 

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State of the Young Child to be held on St. Patrick’s Day

There’s not much time left to register for this Thursday’s State of the Young Child luncheon and symposium in Missoula. Yes, this Thursday is St. Patrick’s Day, too. So wear something green to the luncheon.

This year will mark the sixth annual such gathering hosted by the Healthy Start Council of the Missoula Forum for Children and Youth in the Missoula County Office of Planning and Grants. The public – and especially parents – is encouraged to attend the very affordably priced event (it’s just $5 per parent, $7.25 for others; and free childcare is available on a limited basis).

For your money, you get lunch and the words of Montana Kids Count research analyst Thale Dillon; Missoula County Public Schools’ Carol Ewen, who will be talking about the literacy readiness of incoming kindergartners; parent and inspirational speaker Karen Marsolek of Made You Think LLC; and Richard Manning, a research associate in childhood trauma at the University of Montana’s Institute for Educational Research and Services and the National Native Children’s Trauma Center.

It’s all taking place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. this Thursday, March 17, at the City Life Teen Center, located at 1515 Fairview Ave. For more information call Susan Barmeyer at the Healthy Start Council at 721-3000 ext. 1022 or e-mail sbarmeyer@co.missoula.mt.us.

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