Going into the new school year, Montana City Public Schools are approaching potential challenges by trying to address them before they are a problem, according to the school’s administration.
“I don’t see it as challenges, as much as that we’re always just looking to improve our school,” said Superintendent Tony Kloker
While the school is approaching things such as bullying and student well-being from multiple angles, those programs are meant to prevent problems from happening, and are not a response to existing problems, Kloker said.
Strategies in the school improvement plan include review of the bullying response procedures, fostering a positive school atmosphere both between students and between students and staff, modeling respect for differences between students, and encouraging staff morale and cooperation.
“The bottom line, students need to be safe when they go to school,” Kloker said. “When students feel safe and they feel like they belong, they’re going to have an advantage in learning.”
Kloker said he feels efforts to build a positive culture at the school have been very successful. “We have very, very few incidents of bullying or harassment behavior. So that’s just something we really take pride in.”
Rather than trying to implement an anti-bullying program, Montana City approaches the issue by creating an environment that encourages kindness, he said.
If students and staff are treating each other the right way, it will head off problems that lead to bullying and negative behaviors, he said.
“So, that’s our method, to promote the positives and kindness,” he said.
Even with students at the kindergarten level, the school seeks to teach coping skills, helping even the youngest students to channel frustrations into productive solutions, rather than staying unhappy or seeking negative outlets.
Kloker said that every year the school seeks input from staff, the school board and the community on ways to improve.
“So, right now, the beginning of the year, is a time when the staff are emailing me their ideas of things that we can do to improve the school,” he said. “There’ll be a new improvement list coming out here in the next three weeks.”
One example of a recommended improvement is the baby changing tables in the bathrooms of the new addition, which were recommended by parents.
Kloker said community members also said they wanted to see the school pay down existing debt. Relatively stable enrollment over the last three years has been helpful toward that goal.
The result was the first time in the school’s history that they went three years in a row without a levy, he said.
“Also, this July, we’ll end up paying off the big gymnasium addition. So, we’ll only have the bond left from the latest addition,” he said.
Additional recent improvements include the new school website provider and host, cyberschool.com. Kloker said the school had to change the online address of the website, so they are still working to make the new address the top results in online searches.
The new website is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and staff are still learning all the ways they can use it, Kloker said.
Additionally, the school has over 80 new students this year, he said. That includes over 30 new kindergarten students, with 505 total students this year over 474 last year.
“That always brings challenges, because you never know what educational, social, emotional needs those students bring,” he said. “No matter what you’re planning ,you have to kind of readjust.”
The school was also able to install a variety of new playground equipment, with the PTA raising around $13,000 toward the improvements, he said. That includes equipment that promotes ease of play between students who are handicapped and those who are not.
Through their volunteer program, community members with special skills or interests are encouraged to share those things with students, ranging from instruction in flower arranging or scuba diving to residents who have played Bingo with students.
Volunteering doesn’t require any special expertise though, and some volunteers come to just read with the students or help them with math, he said.
The school is always open to community members who want to devote some time to students, he said.