This summer, Julie Robitaille will don nine new hats as she becomes an executive regional director in Missoula County Public Schools.
Robitaille will leave her post as principal of C.S. Porter Middle School to transition into one of the district's two executive regional director positions. The move comes on the heels of Superintendent Mark Thane's decision to restructure his Cabinet. Instead of three regional directors, he'll have two – Robitaille and Karen Allen – and a new position, director of teaching and learning.
Robitaille will work with principals at Seeley-Swan, Sentinel and Willard high schools, Meadow Hill and Washington middle schools, and Chief Charlo, Cold Springs, Lewis and Clark and Russell elementary schools.
"My job is to run alongside these principals and really work side by side with them, not be over them. That's not my style at all," she said. "That's how I lead here. I'm in the trenches, I'm in the classes, I'm in the hallways, I'm problem-solving with teachers, I'm celebrating with them. It's not an authoritarian type of style."
Allen will work with Big Sky and Hellgate high schools, C.S. Porter Middle School, and Franklin, Hawthorne, Lowell, Paxson and Rattlesnake elementary schools.
In addition, Robitaille will be responsible for Title I and Families in Transition/McKinney Vento, and Allen will tackle special education, Indian Education for All, COMPASS and ELL.
Current regional director Roberta Stengel is moving back into retirement at the end of the school year, and regional director Trevor Laboski is leaving to take a job in Kuala Lumpur.
Robitaille is a lifer in Missoula – she grew up here, went through MCPS, got degrees in German and library media services at University of Montana, and started teaching in MCPS in 1991.
"I've been in the district a long time, but I've had a whole variety of positions, and it's been necessitated mostly by family changes or just ready for career changes," she said.
She's taught at Big Sky, Hellgate and Seeley-Swan, she's worked in the district library, as the K-12 library coordinator, as district library coordinator and as curriculum and Title I coordinator. In 2012, she took the helm at Porter.
"It's been the most rewarding 4 1/2 years of my career," she said of her time at Porter. "The staff here is absolutely amazing, and just getting to work with middle school kids every day. Our Porter community, the families whose kids come here, it's just a real educational community."
The hardest part about leaving, she said, sighing, will be the kids.
Walking around the school Tuesday afternoon, she frequently paused during conversation to say a quick hello to a student – by name – in the hallway. There are nearly 500 kids at Porter, and Robitaille has made it a point to connect with all of them.
"The daily interaction with kids," she said. "I go to their football games, I go to their hockey games, so that'll be hard to replace."
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Her district and building level experience, as well as Porter's reputation as a school with strong systems implementation, made her a good fit for the executive regional director position.
"I think the systems and the programs we've implemented here at Porter since I've been principal are systematic approaches that Mark would like to see more consistently across the district," she said.
Porter has a "braided approach": balancing academics with behavioral supports. Staff and teachers meet kids where they are – gifted, struggling or in the middle – and "give them what they need to take the next step."
As a regional director, Robitaille will have more of a 10,000-foot look over the district, finding ways to tie a string from grade to grade and make a cohesive K-12 system.
The overarching K-12 perspectives of STEM, STEAM, Project Lead the Way and Spark could be modeled in other districtwide initiatives, she said.
Kids moving on from Paxson – the district's Spanish language immersion school – will have a gap in Spanish between elementary and high school. The same goes for International Baccalaureate, which is implemented in one (soon to be two) elementary school and three high schools, but nothing in the middle schools.
"We cannot let a student come out of fifth grade fairly fluent in Spanish and not have them really access much Spanish ... until they get to high school," she said.
"How are we going to accommodate those kids in middle school so that they can continue on that learning path? Does the community, do those parents want to see a track through middle school up to high school, or not? There's a gap right now. Maybe that's important, maybe it's not."
She hopes to keep those lines of communication with the community open.
"I'm connected in the community," she said. "I've been here a long time and I've associated with a lot of people and I think that helps me do a better job for the district, because the district is really part of the greater community and we need to be responsive to our students' and families' needs."
Allen, who currently oversees Robitaille, soon will be her counterpart.
"I have faith that Mark will convey his vision so that it's doable," Robitaille said. "And Karen and I work really well together, so I'm excited about that."