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Arlee School District seeks new super

ARLEE – The Arlee School Board is in the process of looking for a new superintendent after David Whitesell resigned from the position earlier this school year.

Whitesell decided to make his third year at the school his last to allow another administrator to come in with new ideas. He will finish up this school year before moving on. Whitesell signed on with Arlee in the fall of 2015. 

With 26 years of experience as a superintendent for different schools, Whitesell said he felt it was time to move on and do something new. He might even consider teaching again and noted he began his career as a history teacher.  

The superintendent is proud of his work during his time at the school. He said literacy was one of the things he focused on, and he hopes to see continued improvements. He wanted to increase reading skills for children in grades K-3 because test scores for those grades were low when he was hired. He said administrators, teachers and staff worked together on the project.  “You name it, we did it,” he said. 

The strategy included putting teachers with skills geared toward younger students and reading into those classrooms and lowering teacher to student ratios. Teachers were also sensitive to how trauma from outside sources impacts learning. Whitesell said teachers in general are sensitive to that issue, but it was something they decided to put extra attention on.  

During the Tuesday school board meeting, Whitesell pointed at a chart and explained that students in the lower four grades were all making more than a ten percent growth rate in reading, according to state test scores. 

“They have to be able to read to do everything else,” he said of the importance of learning to read so students can then read to learn. 

Whitesell talked after the meeting about one of the things he wished he could have changed at the school: “The four-day school week needs to go.” He wants the school to return to a full five-day week. He said the school week was reduced to four days before he became superintendent to save money and decrease the loss of absentee students, but he thinks a longer week helps students achieve academically. 

During the meeting, the school’s grant applications were discussed. The most significant grant came from Title I for the 2017 school year in the amount of $314,293 with $19,926 going to the Nkwusm language school. The federal funds provide financial assistance to schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families to help them meet academic standards.  

The monies are used for math and literacy instruction, STEM programs, professional development, community programs, the integration of Indian Education for All, summer and after school programs and homeless student assistance. 

Whitesell said schools across Montana received a “significant bump” in Title I funding, but he suggested using it with caution and focusing on programs already in place. He explained that if a new program was created with those funds or staff raises were given, the school might not get that much money next year, so continuing to fund new programs could be difficult.    

During the meeting, the board addressed an agenda item to name the school’s football field after former coach Clyde Tucker. Teacher Sue Carney said the board should consider that the field is already named Lambert Demers. It was said that Demers was one of the first coaches at the school in the 1940s. Board members said additional research needs to be done on the issue before any action can be taken.

In other sports news, Chuck Forgey was hired as the head high school football coach, and Ryan Landolfi and Todd Yocum were hired as assistant coaches. The junior high football assistant coach will be Andrew HeavyRunner. Brett Sproul was hired as the high school head cross country coach, and the high school assistant and junior high coach is Katea Dreiling. Michael Richardson is the junior high head volleyball coach.

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