From recommendations for elementary attendance boundary changes to a proposed overhaul of the math curriculum to the approval of a new superintendent contract, the Missoula County Public Schools Board of Trustees had an eventful meeting this week.
Tuesday's meeting, which ran three hours, packed in a number of important topics in addition to regular orders of business.
Members of the elementary attendance boundary study committee made their final recommendations for changes to the board on Tuesday, following a long process of reviewing current boundaries that included 32 public meetings.
The committee, made up of parents representing each of the nine elementary schools and staff representing different student stakeholder groups, reviewed student data, a demographic study and population forecast, and community feedback to come up with the recommendations in collaboration with WGM Group.
The proposed changes to elementary attendance boundaries seek to reduce overcrowding at four of the nine MCPS elementary schools (Jeannette Rankin, Lewis and Clark, Paxson and Rattlesnake) that are at or over capacity for student enrollment.
The boundary study examined ways to redistribute elementary students and reduce the need to “level” students, or send them to schools outside their designated area because their neighborhood school is at capacity.
The recommended boundary adjustments primarily address the south side of Missoula, which Superintendent Mark Thane said was the area of the greatest concern to the district.
Change Area 23, on the south side of town between Jeannette Rankin and Chief Charlo, extends the Chief Charlo boundary farther west on Miller Creek road. Committee member Hannah Stone said the change was generally accepted through public comment.
Change Area 28 would extend a portion of the Russell boundary farther along West 39th Street. Stone said the public generally supported the change, although there was “a lot” of concern over the safety of crossing Russell.
The committee also recommended Area 29, which would extend the Chief Charlo boundary north and send a portion of Jeannette Rankin students to Chief Charlo.
Additionally, the committee recommended that Area 26, near Chief Charlo and zoned for multi-family residential development, be considered as an addition to Chief Charlo once Rimel Road is connected to Hillview Way.
The committee also presented two other changes to the board for consideration, although they did not include them as formal recommendations because of various concerns and public opposition. The committee was also hesitant to recommend the options due to the middle and high school boundary studies slated for next year.
“In hindsight, we would have kept the consideration of middle schools in the decision-making process, and as the middle school committee meets next year, we’d like them to consider thinking about high school attendance boundary issues when they are looking at the middle schools,” committee member Mandy Snook said.
One of the potential areas for change, Area 14, would move a portion of Lewis and Clark students to Paxson. However, Paxson is one of the four elementary schools that is already at capacity.
Change Area 22, which would move 100 Paxson students to Franklin, is also up for consideration in some form. The specific boundary presented to the board is subject to change based on various issues, as well as public opposition that was expressed during a limited feedback window since WGM group presented the option for the first time on April 4.
Area 22 has issues with walkability, since it would require students to cross a section of Russell Street that is currently under construction. There was also concern about overloading Franklin by placing more than 100 new students in the school in a short period of time.
The change would also affect middle school enrollment because the students in Area 22 who currently attend Paxson and filter into Washington Middle School, could switch middle schools, although Washington is beginning to develop an extension of the Spanish immersion program offered at Paxson.
“Ultimately, the committee recommended that Change Area 14 or some version of that makes sense,” said Stone. “But that necessitates some version of Change Area 22 and there was not a consensus that that change area should be recommended to the board, so those two areas were considerations for you all but not necessarily a recommendation from our committee.”
Although the district does not currently need a tenth elementary school based on population and enrollment forecasts, the committee also discussed the option of reopening Mount Jumbo School if there were enough students.
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MCPS spokeswoman Hatton Littman said the committee recommended that the board consider reopening Mount Jumbo if there are at least 200 elementary students residing in its boundary area in East Missoula, and if a compatible use partner is found to co-occupy the building.
In addition, the committee recommended policies to grandfather students who are currently registered in their school for six years, until June 2025, including kindergarten students registered by June 11, 2019.
The committee also recommended that any siblings who are not currently school age will be accepted for attendance at the same school with their sibling through the 2024-25 school year.
The committee asked trustees to review the recommendations, which will be open for public comment until the June 11 board meeting, where the committee will ask trustees to vote to approve the finalized options.
More information can be found on the district’s website at mcpsmt.org/elementaryschoolboundarystudy.
New math curriculum
Since 2018, a task force dedicated to reviewing the district’s math curriculum has worked to identify gaps and areas for improvement.
As a result of the process, the math curriculum task force presented their interest in adopting new curriculum, which would consist of Ready Classroom and iReady for grades K-5, and Carnegie and Mathia for grades 6-12.
The task force consulted every math teacher in each of the district’s schools and asked what their priorities were and examined how those priorities aligned with the Common Core standards.
The task force also asked teachers what materials they were using and found that teachers did not have consistent materials that met students' needs.
Elise Guest, MCPS executive director of teaching and learning, said the district has not updated math materials since Common Core was adopted in 2009.
“Right now we have math materials in our classrooms that are not even aligned to the standards that we’re asking them to teach,” Guest said.
Guest said the district aims to adopt a curriculum that is “guaranteed and viable.” Guaranteed meaning that no matter what school, every student has equal opportunity to learn with the same materials, and viable meaning it’s feasible to teach within the time constraints of a school year.
The implementation of the materials for grades 6-12 is recommended for the fall of 2019, while the implementation of the K-5 materials is recommended for the fall of 2020.
The task force will ask trustees to vote on the adoption of the new curriculum at the June 11 school board meeting.
New superintendent contract
Trustees also approved a three-year contract with Rob Watson to serve as the superintendent of Missoula County Public Schools.
“It is my sincere privilege to accept the position of superintendent of Missoula County Public Schools,” Watson said, now superintendent of Bozeman public schools.
“As an experienced Montana educator, I believe I can provide support, knowledge, guidance and passion to help MCPS continue their great work as well as move the district to the next level of excellence,” Watson said.
Watson will take over as superintendent on July 1, 2019, following Thane’s retirement.
The district’s next regular board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28.