Hears report on adult ed, votes to keep cross-country

The adult education program at the Ennis School District is coming along and its coordinator is pleased with this year’s progress.

“We are growing, which is so exciting,” Doranne Pitz, told the Ennis School Board last Wednesday.

The Ennis Continuing Education’s winter term started Monday. Pitz anticipates about 100 students. The program had about 80 students in the fall term. Besides courting new students, Pitz is also looking for instructors to teach classes.

“I’m always looking for instructors to help the program grow,” she said.

Pitz’s presentation came at the regular monthly Ennis School Board meeting, which was attended by about 40 people.

The Ennis School District started this school year with about $3 million in the adult education fund. However, Pitz’s operating budget is about what the district levied for adult education for this year – $248,000. The remaining funds in the budget would be used to support the program in coming years, she said.

The adult education program is officially called the Ennis Continuing Education program. Currently the program is offering a variety of classes like computers, guitar, quilting and exercise, Pitz said. In fact, the boot camp class, which is a regular exercise class, had about 23 students in it last term.

Pitz took over coordinating the program last summer from Jon Goodman and Toni Fanning, who were helpful in getting her going this fall.

Goodman and Fanning worked with a volunteer community group to organize a community and business survey and to some degree the class structure still reflects those survey results, Pitz said. Additionally, she has worked hard to communicate with students in the program and other community members about how they’d like to see the program grow.

“We’re constantly asking the community what you want and trying to do that,” she said.

This summer, Pitz would like to offer classes that take advantage of the beauty in the Madison Valley. She envisions offering classes in things like birding or fly fishing, where students can take field trips as part of their class.

“The really cool thing about this is it really can go anywhere,” she said.

Pitz also explained some of the recent equipment purchases and the potential for buying equipment for future classes.

Recently, the school bought exercise equipment for some of their adult education fitness classes, she said. This purchase included 20 yoga mats, as an example.
Future purchases could include fly fishing kits that the school could lease to students who take a fly fishing class, she said.

Pitz also referred to the guitar classes currently offered through the program. The money in the adult education fund could be used to buy guitars to lease to students, she said. This would allow more people to take the class, without the burden of rounding up an instrument.

Pitz also said she was looking to work more with the business community to try and offer classes that would benefit local businesses and their employees. She is also working on trying to offer a graduate equivalent degree, or GED, through the continuing education program.

In other news, the school board again tabled the performance evaluation for superintendent Doug Walsh. The decision came at a 4 p.m. meeting prior to the regular board meeting.

More than 15 members of the public attended the evaluation meeting. Some were there to protest the eventual closure of the meeting to the public.

Employee evaluations are considered private by the Montana Supreme Court, said the Ennis School District Lawyer Elizabeth Kaleva.

Kaleva was on the speakerphone for part of the meeting. She was called after Walsh asked that the meeting be closed to the public and school board member Lisa Frye protested.

Frye agreed that part of the meeting should be closed, but any part of the evaluation dealing with how Walsh spent or allocated tax money should be public.

“I do think there are public issues that should be dealt with publically,” Frye said.

At Frye’s request, Sheridan attorney Stephanie Kruer was also in attendance. She suggested the school board take public comment on issues concerning public trust and close the portions of the evaluation that are clearly private.

However, to take public comment on those issues would mean noticing the meeting properly, Kruer said.

Last week’s superintendent evaluation meeting notice didn’t include any section for public comment. The school board decided to table the evaluation until next month, so the public comment portion could be noticed properly.

The board also voted unanimously to keep the cross-country program for another year after hearing from two athletes, the coach and a handful of community members about the importance of the program.

Wyatt Murdoch took a break from basketball practice to speak on behalf of the cross-country program, which he participated in this past fall.

The team had four participants, but they were close and really pushed each other, Murdoch said.

Running has improved his stamina for basketball and overall health. It also taught him how much it takes to set and meet goals, he said.

“I loved every minute and every mile spent with our little family,” Murdoch said.

Madison Owens placed eighth in state for the Ennis cross country team and like Murdoch, the program means a lot to her.

One benefit about cross-country is it’s an individual sport, so runners can represent a school and don’t necessarily have to have a team, she said. Also, it is an inexpensive sport to fund. Runners wear track uniforms and traveled to meets in the school van.

Cross-country is a lifetime sport, said coach Cori Koenig. It teaches kids dedication and instills responsibility.

This was Koenig’s first year coaching, but she was surprised by how many people in the community either run now or got their start running with cross-country in high school.

Robin Blazer, a community member at the meeting, spoke in favor of keeping the program.

Blazer ran cross-country in high school and credits it for teaching her life lessons she leans on now.

“I would have to say out of every activity I was ever in, I learned more life skills in cross country than anything else,” she said. “It makes students understand the difference between a goal and something they might want to do.”

Ennis Athletic Director Paul Bills also spoke in favor of keeping the program, saying in part it would be a shame to cut it with at least two students invested in competing. Additionally some consistency in support from the school board could allow Koenig to grow the program.

“I think it’s difficult to take something away from kids once they’ve already started it,” Bills said. “Cori hasn’t had a chance to build her program yet.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board also voted to implement a study hall for the fourth quarter this year. This plan was submitted by high school principal John Sullivan and would extend the school day by seven minutes, providing for an eighth period study hall for each student.

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