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Elena Capousis, a teacher at the Garden City Montessori school, sands a child-size chalkboard last week outside of the school in preparation for a fresh coat of varnish to start the school year. The Montessori, for kids 3-10, starts the school year Thursday morning, one day after most Missoula public schools start Wednesday.

As Missoula's public schools open their doors this week, there are a few changes parents and students should note.

For most schools, grades K-9 started Wednesday, Aug. 29, and grades 10-12 will start on Thursday, Aug. 30.

Seeley-Swan High School followed a slightly different schedule, with grade 9 starting on Tuesday and grades 10-12 starting Wednesday. At Willard Alternative High School, all students started Wednesday.

One of the first changes that many students and parents will notice as they make their way to school is ongoing construction. Russell Elementary will be finished but many schools still have a way to go.

Hawthorne Elementary, Hellgate High School, Lewis and Clark Elementary, Meadow Hill Middle School, Willard, Washington Middle School and Sentinel High School are all works in progress, in addition to the MCPS Agriculture Center.

The new Jeannette Rankin school is also still under construction, although students will attend Cold Springs Elementary until Rankin's completion, which is slated for late fall or winter.

Despite the construction, all pick-up and drop-off locations will be the same. But parents should be aware that fenced-off areas may cause some changes to traffic flow.

“Just be really conscious and aware and plan extra time,” MCPS director of communications Hatton Littman said.

There have also been a few slight changes to bus routes. Littman said parents can check for changes using a program called Infofinder on the MCPS website. The program allows users to find bus routes and schedules by entering their address.

Students will also notice a few changes upon their arrival, with new curriculum and changes to leadership. 

Big Sky High School, Meadow Hill, Jeannette Rankin and Lowell Elementary will all have new principals this year. But not all of them are new to the district. Barbara Frank, who will be the new principal at Lowell, is the only new principal who is also new to the district.

Across the district, elementary, middle and high schools will be adopting the new English Language Arts curriculum, which was approved by the board last spring.

Over the summer, Littman said the district received semi-truck loads of reading materials and books that will be available to kids to use as part of an effort to improve literacy in the schools.

The curriculum will be fully implemented at elementary and middle schools this fall, while ninth-grade English teachers will pilot one part of the program for the high school level.

“It’s a big part of us recognizing that in order to prepare students to compete in the 21st century, they have to know a range of skills. But the fundamental building block under all of that is literacy,” Littman said.

Last, there will be a few security changes including key card access for staff, controlled entry points, lockdown systems and cameras. Even with the improvements, school safety will likely be an ongoing conversation between parents and the schools, she said.

The district is in the process of reconfiguring lobbies to make them more secure. Once complete, visitors will need to be buzzed in to gain access to the rest of the school. The new entrances and lockdown doors will be finished when construction is completed, Littman said. 

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