June school board round-up
The Sheridan School Board approved a threat assessment procedure plan put together by Superintendent Mike Wetherbee. This procedure would create a team including a teacher, a mental health professional, a law enforcement representative, an administrator and a general health professional responsible for identifying and measuring levels of threat.
“We’re looking for a variety of people who would understand a human being who would make a threat,” Wetherbee said.
Over this past school year, the Sheridan School District experienced situations that would have warranted this type of policy and team to evaluate the level of threat. In his procedure, Wetherbee categorized threats in different levels: low, medium, high, or imminent.
“If we had the team together this year, we would probably have been able to work through some of these things a little quicker,” Wetherbee said.
Wetherbee took about a month and a half coming up with the threat assessment procedure, as he was not finding the resources he needed through the state. During the board meeting he mentioned Montana was not at the forefront of threat assessments as these types of situations are not as at-large but found a blueprint in the state of Virginia. Missoula County does have violence prevention and threat assessment guidelines.
In 2008, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation requiring higher education institutions to establish threat assessment teams, and in 2013 required the same for public schools. Montana Code Annotated allows transfer of funds to a school’s building reserve to support student safety and security.
Wetherbee expects that if the board approves the procedure, it may become part of the Montana School Board Association’s (MTSBA) model policy.
“My point is, this came about because I felt that we didn’t have enough tools in our toolbox to address this, so I went to look (for it),” Wetherbee said.
Board Chair Kendra Horn brought up that this creates a different group of people, other than Wetherbee and Principal Rodney Stout, to oversee discipline for specific cases. Wetherbee said he and Mr. Stout are great at dealing with kids, but when they start acting outside the ‘norm,’ that is when the threat assessment team can step in. A checklist will be available to team members to use to assess a threat and make decisions based on the level determined.
“Right now, we have a one-sizefits-all procedure,” Horn said. The proposed procedure allows for differentiation between a small comment and a physical action.
Senior Seminar instructor Laurie Bartoletti brought up the Hope Squad, something the district put together to train students to help staff identify those that may be struggling. “I think that’ll be a good thing,” Bartoletti said about the procedure.
The board unanimously approved the threat assessment procedure.
The board also approved a gaming club at the school. Students brought the idea to a teacher, and it was popular. Middle and high schoolers raise funds to get on different gaming platforms and cover refreshments. While it may be to the dismay of some, Wetherbee pointed out that it fits into his overall goals for the school—keeping kids involved and spending their time somewhere safe.
The district’s 1900 Covid policies will be posted on the website as part of the Safe Return to School Policy, which includes the district’s relaxed mask mandate. A portion of the 1900 series that makes homeschooling an option will be discussed during July’s meeting. Wetherbee considered recommending removing the policy but understood the need to keep it in place in case it was needed again.
A yearbook instructor—with an approved stipend retroactive for this past school year—a bus driver, girls’ basketball varsity and assistant coaches, an assistant football coach, an assistant volleyball coach, an assistant boys’ varsity basketball coach, an assistant FFA advisor, middle school assistant varsity coaches and middle school volleyball coaches were hired.
The four bus routes were approved, which is contingent on hiring another bus driver.
Mr. Stout reported that in kindergarten through sixth grade, the number of students is growing. He mentioned in his 14 years in this district, he has not seen that number go over 100, which it now has. Mr. Stout said many families are coming in and he gets calls just about every day asking about Sheridan School District.
The Twin Bridges School Board approved a concept for design of potential teacher housing to be located on a vacant lot owned by the district.
“In order to get things going, one of those things being the grant process, there had to be an initial agreement by the school district that we, the district, approve of the initial housing unit concept,” Twin Bridges Superintendent Thad Kaiser said.
The approved concept would include two duplex structures with garages and three bedrooms per unit. The next step in this endeavor after concept approval is finding funding, which the recently restructured Twin Bridges School & Community Foundation can assist with. The district will look into applying for grants, finding private donors and using Habitat for Humanity as options for funding.
With the ESSER II funds released and the ESSER III funds partially available, the board approved new positions made possibly by the ESSER funds. ESSER funds are part of the CARES Act funding specific to education.
Part of the funding stipulations require using the money for providing academic support to all students. The district is looking into hiring an academic interventionist, specifically for math and ELA (English Language Arts), which would be like a Title I instructor. Kaiser explained that individuals understand a Title I position better, but with different funding comes a different title. Depending on student need, three paraprofessionals may be hired as well.
The board approved the creation of these new positions for the next two years. ESSER funds must be used within the next two fiscal years.
An early kindergarten program instructor, first grade teacher, summer grounds employees, a bus driver, a substitute teacher and a high school girls’ basketball coach and middle school girls’ basketball assistant coach were hired. The school counselor and industrial arts instructor resigned, and the board is considering how refilling those positions will be addressed.
Mr. Stanton Howe, who was a musician for 60 years—playing with the Montana State Old-Time Fiddlers—taught in rural schools, was an auctioneer and supported the Twin Bridges School District, recently passed away.
“His family wants any contributions on behalf of Stan to go to our Twin Bridges music program,” Kaiser said. “Whether that would be to repair instruments or purchase new instruments.”
As part of Pam Birkeland’s superintendent report, the Madison County Superintendent of Schools provided that the Madison County Mental Health Local Advisory Council purchased a set of books on mental health, ranging from children’s books to self-help or novels. Each public library will receive some of these mental health-related books, along with each school library in the county.
At its June 17 meeting, the Alder School Board reviewed and did the first reading for six new policies. Some legislative bills that were effective immediately resulted in policy changes and required reading and review immediately. Other legislative changes will also affect policies but are not yet effective, so the board has more time to review.
The district is still working on securing a bid for a pole barn to serve as an outdoor learning area. Costs will be aided by ESSER funds, a form of CARES Act money designated for education. A restructuring of school parking out in front of the school, to reduce crowding during drop off and pick up hours, is anticipated to be completed before the school year begins.
As part of the requirements for ESSER/ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money, Alder School’s reopening plan will be posted on Birkeland’s website. Teacher contracts were renewed during the June meeting, and the board approved a 3% raise for teachers. Classified staff will be rehired in July.
For the 2021/2022 school year, Alder School will consist of two full-time teachers, two aids and a student teacher from the University of Montana, Western in Dillion, Mont. Last school year, the district employed just one aid in the classroom, and with a teacher retiring this year, the additional aid will be available to support the two full-time teachers. T
he Alder School Board approved offering the Montana Outdoor Science School (MOSS) program, an outdoor education experience, out of Bozeman, Mont. two days a week for students in the fall.
“The kids will have a really good experience with that,” Birkeland said.
The school clerk and Birkeland requested the board approve the addition of 10% of the general fund and any leftover money from the year to the interlocal agreement with Harrison and Ennis School Districts. Birkeland explained that if districts have money leftover at the end of a year, they either must spend it or reserve 10% for the next year. It can be placed into an interlocal agreement for later use.
“It’s a nice way to put aside some money for unforeseen things that come up,” Birkeland said.