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Local schools still pondering fall openings, new superintendents welcomed

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LAKE COUNTY – As the academic school year creeps closer for students who are tentatively scheduled to return to area classrooms in late August, school district administrators throughout the county have been busily crafting reopening plans and preparing classrooms for a safe return.

While a few school districts are currently working on yet-to-be-determined reopening plans, a majority of the local school district boards, back in mid-July, adopted a multi-phase reopening plan based on recommended guidelines provided by the governor’s office for the safe and healthy reopening of public schools. The number of COVID-19 cases in Lake County has risen dramatically since the schools started developing opening plans, prompting district officials to re-examine prior approved plans. 

On Friday, July 31, Governor Steve Bullock issued a directive waiving current residency requirements to allow school districts the flexibility to provide educational services at an off site instructional setting in order to protect students and teachers from the spread of COVID-19.

“This directive will ensure that schools are able to make the choices to provide the best educational opportunities available, no matter where those students may live,” said Bullock. “Many districts may choose to offer a blend of in-classroom and remote learning to balance safety with the educational needs of their students.”

The current law limits the ability of districts to provide off site delivery of educational services to those students who live out-of-district. “There are many school districts serving children from out of district throughout Montana whose options for providing virtual education were limited under the current law,” said Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana School Board Association. “Governor Bullock’s order temporarily waiving the residency requirement for virtual education will help school districts throughout Montana finalize their reopening plans in a manner that will provide safe and effective learning environments, including virtual learning options for resident and non-resident students alike.”

At this point, there are a lot of questions surrounding back-to-school plans. School districts continue to weigh their options for reopening and parents mull over sending their kids back to face-to-face instruction versus remote learning. 

In other local school news, the St. Ignatius School District will have a remodeled and updated facility. Voters approved a 30-year bond in 2019 that totals $5.6 million to fund school improvements. Superintendent Jason Sargent gave an overview of where the project currently stands. “The elementary envelope is complete, and the old gym ceiling is replaced,” he said. “The elementary windows, roof, bathrooms, lockers and bleachers are complete.”

Sargent explained the new gym, along with the locker rooms and bathrooms, is on schedule to be ready this fall. “The career center will be complet in the next couple of weeks and we will be transitioning classrooms over for the start of school,” he said.

The Polson School District board received a construction update last Wednesday afternoon on the status of the Linderman Elementary School’s $4.2 million gymnasium replacement project. Back in January of 2018, the roof collapsed on the former gymnasium during a severe snowstorm, causing irreparable structural damage throughout the more than 70-year-old building. According to Interim Superintendent Tom DiGiallonardo, “The project is still on track to be finished in the early fall of 2021.”

Workers, in recent weeks, set the concrete structural foundation and worked on the installation of the facility’s electrical conduits and plumbing. This week, framing and masonry work will continue.

Both the Arlee and Polson school districts will be welcoming new superintendents. Mike Perry joins the Arlee district, replacing Superintendent James Baldwin who retired at the end of the 2019/2020 school year. Perry served the community of Hot Springs as the school district’s superintendent before taking the position at Arlee.

Back in mid-July, the Polson School District held a special board meeting to accept the resignation of Superintendent Rex Weltz and approve longtime district employee DiGiallonardo as interim superintendent. After working for the Polson School District since 2012, outgoing superintendent Weltz has accepted an administrative position with the Helena Public School District.

DiGiallonardo has spent the last 20 years working in the Polson School District, serving as athletic director and principal of Polson Middle School, and most recently, he served as district curriculum director.

 

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