Not knowing what to expect, many of the 40-some parents who showed up for Missoula County Public Schools community session to learn about the district’s long-range facilities planning process, got some surprises Wednesday night.

During the second weeklong workshop, which is underway this week, some of the ideas that have emerged include merging some elementary schools and starting over at others.

Specifically, some of the ideas include moving Washington Middle School to Missoula College when it vacates, and relocating Lowell Elementary School to the Missoula Mercantile building on Higgins Avenue.

The ideas are just that, and some of are the result of exercises in rethinking Missoula’s schools to fit 21st century education needs.

Prompting those ideas is notions of creating educational “campuses” and better connecting schools with assets in the community, such as spectrUM children’s science museum, which is near the Mercantile.

“I’m very interested in some of the ideas that are listed here,” said Leea Pittenger, a parent who made time in her calendar to participate in the community listening session.

“I don’t imagine we will have a lot of money for new schools, so it’s important that we be creative with what we have.”

Pittenger’s biggest concern is that MCPS classrooms are already too full, necessitating the old-school model of a teacher in the front classroom lecturing to row after row of students.

“I really appreciate that this group of people doing the work is looking at ways to better work with kids and how to best improve learning,” she said.

Looking at the lists of ideas that workshop participants put together between Monday and Wednesday, Pittenger said she was most excited about the notion of creating large workstations that encourage collaboration.

“The learning lab is really appealing to me because the kids are encouraged to move about and multiple projects can be worked on at the same,” she said.

Laura Fellin and her husband Marco left their twin boys with a sitter so they could hear what direction MCPS is thinking about now that the district is trying to pull together a comprehensive long-range facilities plan.

“I think this is really exciting,” Fellin said. “The idea that so many people are involved and working in small groups and coming up with so many options is really exciting.”

The couple’s hope is that the end product is a plan that energizes student learning.

“It is so wonderful to bring the school district and the community together in this way,” Fellin said. “What a nice opportunity. I hope we look back and appreciated the invitation and initiative.”

Virgina DeLand came to the event to make sure that children with special needs are included in all the new thinking and planning.

“I want them to consider all of our children,” said DeLand, whose daughter was a special-needs student in the district in the late 1970s. “There’s nothing worse for these children than being in the margins of school.”

DeLand said she liked the systematic way the planning process is looking at all the facilities.

“I like how other schools are setting up learning and education so they will better meet students’ needs,” DeLand said.

To learn more about the planning process, what was discussed at the first weeklong workshop in October and what is happening at meetings this week, which continue through Friday, visit mcpsmt.org.

The final workshop begins Dec. 2.

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

(13) comments

Tim Huffman
Tim Huffman

There's another article on this same page about Lowell (and it's community) withstanding similarly misguided efforts in the past! I hope this is just some goofy thought experiment. A school on a sidewalk downtown hardly seems like a better place for elementary kids than a school in a park in a quiet neighborhood.

Alan Johnson
Alan Johnson

I can't think of a worse idea than moving Lowell elementary to down town Missoula. It would take the school out of walking distance for students living in the surrounding Old Westside area. There is no room for a playground. The traffic would be terrible for young students. I'm glad it's just an idea. But it's an idea that should die a quick, merciful death.

prescottschool_since1893
prescottschool_since1893

We were in the Merc building during a recent First Friday. We love the Merc and have memories of shopping there as children.

My family and I were discussing the millions and millions of dollars that a business would need to spend to renovate this building.

The jig is up - the school district is now admitting that it doesn't matter the age of a building - it's just what buildings they want to dispose of.

Scott Bixler
Scott Bixler

Come on Jeanne, you can’t have it both ways. Remember, it is obvious that the majority of Missoula voters agreed with Dr. Apostle’s raise since two of the Trustee’s that voted against the raise (Scott Bixler and Joe Toth) and the one Trustee that wasn’t even on the Board at the time the raise was given (Scott Todd) were all voted out of office. Now you are railing against the same Trustee’s that took our place by promising a return to common sense.

Gustave
Gustave

I feel like the last school board elections was a rejection of Apostle, and a board that rubber stamps his initiatives. I think it is quite a stretch to say that it signified approval of the raise. Sadly, I feel that people automatically lumped you in with the rest of the board, even though you voted against the raise.

XFSME
XFSME

Scott I’ve got to disagree with your conclusions in your post. I always appreciated you on the board and I was saddened when you and Mr. Toth were voted off the board despite your no vote on Dr. Apostle’s raise. I believe the community was so incensed by the raise that anyone looking for re-election was going to fall victim, despite their service and voting record. I don’t believe your loss was a validation of the raise, rather a message of overall displeasure of the boards’ direction. Again, thank you for your service and the courage to run…, some of your cohort chose the easy way out and quit.

Scott Bixler
Scott Bixler

Thank you for your comments XF SME . You are absolutely correct, I have just wanted to say that to see what the reaction would be. Take care.

Fighting 4 Missoula
Fighting 4 Missoula

Every time I read about what this group of people are thinking or dong that run our district my blood pressures goes up.

Remember, the majority of these people on the Board who are forcing these meetings on us are the same people that WOULD NOT LISTEN TO THE 500 PEOPLE LAST FEBRUARY WITH MULTIPLE COMPLAINTS!! Chief among the complaints was the superintendent's large raise. DID THESE TRUSTEES LISTEN TO THE CITIZENS, STUDENTS, AND STAFF. NO!!

Keep it simple. Just reopen the existing schools. Watch the spending. No more new programs, eliminate IB and the Health Acacemy (we didn't have money for these to being with) and perhaps others. Return to our roots of K-8 schools. And our school system would be much better off financilly, educationally, and socially.

I totally agree with Realitychk!

Finally, I've seen this district spend money on many unnecessary items. Maintenance of our schools needs to be on the top of any priority list for MCPS. It seems maintenance is shoved to the bottom of the list all the time.

Realitychk
Realitychk

I am so tired of the MCPS doublespeak and spin and propaganda. When is this community going to hold the overpaid superintendent accountable? When? The pie in the sky propaganda has got to end. When his contract expires he will walk away with a golden parachute and programs that are unsustainable. The taxpayers will be left paying the bills and ultimately..the kids will suffer the consequences. Everything is for show. Everything is marketed with sugar for the public to swallow. Wake up Missoula!!

MobyMike
MobyMike

I didn't see you there last night, Jeanne? did I just miss you? Or did you not want to witness the hundreds of community members who DO support the Programs and the district and the superintendent? If you want your kids to go to mediocre schools with outdated ideas, home school them...

Realitychk
Realitychk

moving an elementary school to a downtown location? So has anyone stopped to think of traffic and safety issues? Imagine busses waiting and departing with students. imagine parents with their minivans wandering in traffic. Certainly there are better buildings and better locations. This is no place for a school it is a place for commerce.

Pistol
Pistol

Exactly right! Plus the bars, adult stores,etc. Can you imagine the nights of school plays what the children would encounter? This is the typical start with something to upset people so that they later accept something they normally wouldn't. Short of money threaten to drop popular programs or neighborhood schools. I remember, maybe they still do, bus students from the Rattlesnake to East Missoula, and students from East Missoula to the Rattlesnake. Except for the bus company no one bnefited.

MobyMike
MobyMike

Reality, Pistol, please, Chill! IF you had gone to the meeting which you obviously did not, you would understand the stage in the process that these meetings are at right now. The ideas that Betsy mentions that you glom onto are simply "Out of the Box" ideas (and they are literally listed in the category "out of the box"). What you need to understand is that Missoula is the ONLY school district in Montana, and one of very few in the country, that is making these forward thinking plans. Billings just asked for $100Million from its voters just to "catch up" with the needs of today! Missoula is looking to tomorrow and way beyond. When MCPS comes asking for a new bond, you will be able to ask them "What for?" and they will be able to tell you. Not to mention that the teachers' union is participating and supports these efforts!

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