Superintendent's Updates

Posted by Rob Watson on 9/30/2019 8:30:00 AM

Dear MCPS Staff, Parents and Community Partners,

First 100 Days

As I move through my first 100 days as your new Superintendent, I am intentionally engaging with our staff, our parents and our community. In the past few weeks, I have met with the noon Kiwanis club, the Rose Park Neighborhood Council, noon Rotary, the Exchange Club, Arts Missoula, and the Missoula Pachyderm club.  I have also been meeting with community leaders in health care and city/county governance. It has been great talking with everyone about district updates and sharing some thoughts about work to be done this year. I am also learning about District partnerships and how can improve our connection to the community.

 Enrollment

Our student enrollment is up this year.  We won’t have the official count until the first Monday in October.  In order to meet this increased enrollment need, we did add a few teachers during the first few weeks of the school year.  We created a new K classroom at Russell, 1st at Chief Charlo and 8th at C.S. Porter.  It is always difficult to add teachers and shuffle student schedules at the start of the school year.  However, we received more students at those grade levels – more than we anticipated. Although it seems like a last minute decision, it was necessary to meet accreditation standards regarding class size.  I appreciate the flexibility of students, staff and parents as these additional staff bring schedule changes.

 Hawthorne Elementary earned National Blue Ribbon Status

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos this week recognized 362 schools as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2019. The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. Hawthorne Elementary School was selected as an Exemplary High Performing School. This distinction carries significance due to the fact that Hawthorne is also one of four elementary schools in the District that receive Title I funding to support the high numbers of students who are impacted by poverty.

 I share the pride of our entire District in celebrating Hawthorne’s student and staff achievement. This is a significant distinction and brings the total number of National Blue Ribbon Schools in our District to four. Hawthorne joins Franklin (2006), Russell (2011) and Cold Springs (2011 now Jeannette Rankin Elementary) in this honor.

 August 2019 marked the 109th first day of school at Hawthorne Elementary. Throughout the years, the school community has grown and changed while their Tradition of Excellence remained strong.

Due to the rural influence, nearby rivers and open spaces, the Hawthorne community has traditionally valued outdoor education and the sciences. Community partnerships have become an important part of their instructional program. Grade level teams partner with nearby farms and agencies to study local ecosystems. In addition, each grade level includes a minimum of two Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) units. Hawthorne teachers are also national trainers of STEM education within the Project Lead The Way organization. Using the Engineering Design Process, students learn problem solving strategies and perseverance.  Our goal is to teach content area standards while students make connections to real world situations.

There are two factors that have significantly impacted student achievement at Hawthorne. The first is the use of the Professional Learning Community (PLC) model of collaboration. PLCs use data to plan for instruction, intervention, and enrichment. Teachers study best practices and work together to use them effectively. The second factor is a focus on building community in classrooms, across grade levels, and throughout the school. Teachers explicitly model and teach our school expectations- Be Responsible, Respectful, Safe, and Kind. Positive and specific feedback is provided to students in class and in common areas. Using video announcements and a corps of Student Reporters, we showcase classroom and school activities. We host monthly family events such as a Health Fair and STEAM night.

As we help students build stamina for reading, writing, and problem solving, we promote achievement and Hawk Pride throughout the Hawthorne School community. 

The school has high numbers of students scoring advanced in Math, an area where our District and our State are still trying to make large gains in student achievement. In 2019, 44% of 5th graders were  advanced on the Math portion of the Smarter Balanced Assessment while the state average was 20% and our District average was  31%. In the same year, 40% of 4th graders were  advanced on the Math portion of the Smarter Balanced Assessment while the state average was 17% and the District average was 24% and 44% of third graders were  advanced on the Math portion of the Smarter Balanced Assessment while the state average was 18% and the District average was 22%. In the past two years, Hawthorne’s math scores have been 25-30% points above the state. This is the result of the school’s common language across the school, their instructional time (60-75 minutes per day) dedicated to teaching math and the implementation of the What I Need (WIN) time to meet individual student needs with intervention and enrichment activities.

“Whenever we can, we push in support rather than pull student out of the classroom,” noted Principal Becky Sorenson. “Our teachers and para educators take the professional learning seriously. They study together at a Professional Learning Community and they hold themselves and our students to high standards. The collaboration and professionalism of all staff is, in my opinion, what sets us apart.”

Pertussis

Although we have no confirmed cases in our District as of today, there are positive cases in neighboring school districts as well as day-care centers.  We sent an email to all parents with information about potential pertussis recurrence and the protocols.  

If you have questions about pertussis symptoms, exclusions procedures, or immunizations, contact the Missoula City-County Health Department’s Infectious Disease Nurse at (406) 258-3896 Monday-Friday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Climate Strike 

On September 20, there was student organization around a school strike to call attention to climate change, as part of an international movement.  Below is communication that was sent to high school and middle school parents prior to the strike.

Our teachers, support staff, and administrators won’t discourage or resist student efforts to participate in the climate strike events. We also can’t encourage student participation in such events. School Board policy and state law prohibits employees of public organizations from participating in political speech while at work.

The school district can, and does, engage in the academic pursuit of knowledge about climate change as well as practical, implementable solutions to the problems connected with climate change. We know that climate change is real and we are committed to doing our part to create solutions to stop its devastating impact on our planet.  As a District, we have adopted Zero by Fifty goals aligned with the city of Missoula’s Zero by Fifty plan. We have actions connected to those goals across the district, including the solar installations being completed at four of our urban high school campuses which allow for student research; the recycling and composting pilot at Jeannette Rankin Elementary; and the 5th grade Zero Waste Ambassadors Program (ZWAP) conducted at all nine of our elementary schools in coordination with Home ReSource. We teach about climate change in our science classes following the Next Generation Science Standards. There are also inspiring instances of student leadership within the S.A.V.E. club at Hellgate and the Eco Club at Sentinel. These represent just a few examples of what we are doing to demonstrate our commitment to this issue, but as a District we know we can do more.  In the coming months, District administration has committed to engaging student leadership on this important issue in an effort to create future actionable steps.

Within our school environments, our first priority is to create safe learning spaces for our students.  This includes providing a safe environment that allows students to learn about controversial issues and develop and express educated opinions on these issues.  It is reasonable that students may discuss the strike in the normal course of classroom conversation on current events or in connection with other elements of District curriculum.  Civil discourse of controversial issues is an important part of our democratic process and as such should be practiced and encouraged in our educational environments. This practice is also supported by school district policy.

As we do each day, we will follow existing school-based procedures for reporting and managing absences during the period of climate strike events. 

Thanks for reading!

Rob Watson

Superintendent