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.