Archive for the ‘Missoula School Board’ Category

by jhwygirl

There is a K-12 trustee vacancy on the Missoula County School Board. This is the vacancy created by the resignation of Nancy Hirning. Applications to temporarily fill that post are due on Wednesday.

Hirning resigned last month, blaming it on the Missoulian’s coverage of Hirning in the whole “The Story of Stuff” controversy. (4&20 has a few pieces on the controversy – here and here, for a start.)

Anyways….application deadline is 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Missoula County Public School Board’s website has an information page with step-by-step instructions for making application.

School Boards wield a pretty wide swath of power – beginning with taxation. It’s an often overlooked position in the community until some controversy is stirred up, like, say – “The Story of Stuff.”

There were 10 applicants the last go-around, with the resignation of Jenda Hemphill back in March.Many I wouldn’t mind seeking to make another go at it.

So there’s 3 days to go, Missoulians…time to recruit that neighbor or jump into the river yourself. No time better than the present, right?

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by Ana J. Beard

As Alex Apostle, Superintendent for Missoula County Public Schools put it, Hellgate High School principal Jane Bennett is being “reassigned” to Willard’s principal (which is interesting seeing as there are an awful lot of rumors going around about Apostle wanting to close Willard in the near future).

He made the announcement to the staff Tuesday, June 2 in a meeting he had called earlier that day. He told the staff this, and then asked if  Bennett had anything to say and then booked it out of there. He handled the situation unprofessionally and apparently there hasn’t even been a clear reason as to why she’s being reassigned.

There is much protest to her reassignment though, including a petition and letters to the school board.

Funny enough, Hellgate’s CRT testing scores are up by at least TEN PERCENT from last year (12 in math, 18 in reading, science went up as well). Obviously the school (and Bennett) is doing something right, so why the sudden changes? This is just one of the many improvements Hellgate has made in the recent years as well as attendance rates going up and a revised math curriculum.

by jhwygirl

Michael Moore, of the Missoulian, has a nice roundup.

Both nominal levies passed, providing supplemental amounts of maintenance funds for the elementary and the high school districts. I’m sure the board and administration are both breathing a sigh of relief on that.

Both Nancy Pickardt and Joseph Knapp succeeded over Chris Jones, nutcase from the Coalition for Community Responsibility for (not one, but) two empty seats on the K-12 trustee block, while Marcia Holland routed incumbent Rick Johns nearly 2:1.

Jones garnered only 15% of the vote in his three-way race, while Holland took Johns 623-366.

Take That, Regressives!

by Pete Talbot

“Never get in a pissing match with someone who buys ink by the barrel,” my Momma said.

The idea of a Missoulian boycott was shot down but there was plenty of criticism of an editorial that ignored censorship at Big Sky High.

In the end, it was decided that at least three Democratic Party leaders would meet with the editorial board (publisher, editor, opinion page editor) and register their displeasure with the editorial.

I didn’t take a notebook to this meeting because, frankly, I wasn’t there to write about it. I just went because I’m a mighty precinct committeeman but the debate over this resolution was pretty interesting. Lacking some detail, here’s what went down:

One committee member was so pissed at the editorial’s support of a parent complaining about the film, “The Story of Stuff,” instead of supporting the teacher, he proposed a boycott of the paper. He said his wife had already canceled their subscription.

Another member was none too happy with the Tuesday guest editorial that denounced the zoning rewrite. He questioned the writer’s credentials and thought the Missoulian should have, too.

But consensus ran mostly against a boycott: hard to get the numbers to make an impact, could make the party look like whiners, no point in alienating the media …

A teacher in the crowd didn’t like the idea of bringing partisan politics into the debate. He said he knew conservatives who disagreed with the school board’s censorship of the film.

It was suggested that perhaps Democrats could reach out to some Republicans on this one – form a coalition. (A few folks didn’t think the Republicans seemed very receptive to coalition building, these days.)

And another person mentioned taking along a couple of high profile advertisers to the meeting, which got heads nodding.

There was plenty of sympathy for the boycott idea. But there was sympathy for the Missoulian, too: it’s reporters and other staff, the layoffs, the tough times. Democrats were just upset at a couple editorials that lacked vetting and, dare I say, balance.

They also wanted to see more political news and analysis, and in depth coverage of local issues, and the legislature; although again realizing that newspapers are on the ropes and budgets are strained. (There was mention of Missoulian profits being shipped off to headquarters in Davenport, Iowa.)

But there’ll be no boycott.

Having been around the newspaper biz, peripherally, since I was a kid, I understand the many pressures put on an opinion page editor. I personally support a strong, daily newspaper that publishes diverse views on its opinion page. I also hope that the editorial board will take into account the party leadership’s concerns.

by jhwygirl

School Board trustee Jenda Hemphill has resigned her district-wide board position for health reasons and the school board will be appointing a replacement. There are 10 applicants for the position.

Interviews will be conducted during a public meeting, to be held Thursday, March 5, in the Business Building Board Room, 915 South Avenue West. The meeting begins at 5 p.m.

Below is a list of the applicants (taken from the Missoula County Public School District website). If you click on their names, it will take you to the letter they submitted for the position, which includes the questionnaire that they needed to complete. The questions were formulated by the board. Names are in alphabetical order. The MCPSD website link also provides contact information for each of the candidates.

Carol Bellin
John Fletcher
Chris Jones
Joseph F. Knapp, Jr.
Theresa A. Martinosky
Shannon O’Brien
Patricia O’Keefe
Mike Ramsey
Christian M. Whalen
Shelly Wills

The successful applicant needs to hit the ground running – they are expected to be sworn in at the March 10th meeting. The interim position is only for 3 months – election for the seat will occur in May. I consider that experience is a plus..and I feel obligated to note that I do not know any of the candidates.

Given those considerations, several applicants stuck out to me:

Carol Bellin is a former school board member – and she’s been an active volunteer in the school district forever. Carol has also made numerous trips to the legislature testifying on behalf of Missoula schools.

John Fletcher is another active volunteer in the school district – having participated in various capacities since the late 70’s. John is also an active community member, having served on numerous boards, including the Public Library Board of Trustees.

Mike Ramsey, in his own words, would “openly and unapologetically (sic) represent a conservative perspective.” He continued, in answer to his main objectives: “To be willing to stand by any decision I make without any misgivings,” and “to listen carefully to all issued being discussed, and carefully consider the solution to my best ability.” I could go on – but really – just go read it yourself.

Patricia O’Keefe is a former teacher, who has also worked for the U.S. Department of Education.

Shannon O’Brien has held public office before, is a former educator, and has significant experience working in various community capacities.

When it comes down to it, Missoula voters have quite the list here – with all of the applicants obviously concerned what happens in our schools – and many of them very well qualified.

I urge all of you to read through the cover letters and questionnaire answers. Then I urge all of you to contact the sitting board members and let them know who you support. You might even consider clearing your calendars for Thursday evening and heading over to the Business Building Board Room at 915 South Avenue West and speaking in favor of a candidate.

By Montana state law, all public meetings must include an opportunity for public comment.

This is not an appointed board – all members of the school board are elected officials who are elected to represent you. Contacting them to tell them who you want to represent YOU on the board is a smart thing to do.

by Ana J. Beard

Looking at the recent actions of the MCPS school board, it is clear to me that this upcoming election is going to be VERY important. Sure, I may be graduating in a few months, but I have a ten year-old sister, I have friends who are underclassmen, I know little siblings of friends and depending on this upcoming election, it could make their education a well-rounded, interesting one…

Or it could make it a cookie-cutter, text-book, snoresville, sheltered education.

Now, nothing has yet proved my theory, but there’s a name that keeps popping up in the community that I’d rather not see on the ballots, or being the puppet master to other candidates.

Tei Nash.

He is a Hellgate graduate (class of ’69 I believe), played basketball and football and from what I hear, was even in some sort of rock band. Pretty neat, huh?

It is. Until you hear about what that jock/musician grew up to be.

He shows up at the University of Montana when there are meetings dealing with same-sex housing and insurance issues (even going as far as taking it to Supreme Court for “improper” notification of upcoming meetings), he comes to school board meetings to put his-very loud, right-wing-two cents in. In 2003, he even addressed the Montana legislature on HB 294 and was quoted saying, “Gay men think they are doing children a favor by sodomizing them.”  HB 294 was a bill that would have removed same-sex contact from the same line as bestiality in the Montana Code.

He has also commented on a number of other proposed bills (such as HB 449 which deals with school districts’ harassment/intimidation/bullying policies, saying he was concerned with the mention of sexual orientation being included in the policy).

Nash was on the board of Head Start, a part of the governing body of Head Start Inc. that forms policies and helps families. He was even the head of the board at one point. Head Start is a low-income pre-school – a PRE-SCHOOL.

He also strongly opposed bringing Diversity Week into schools saying that it didn’t show both sides [of homosexuality]. Flagship coordinators took his complaints, in my opinion, very respectfully. Big Sky’s Diversity Week this year even had a speaker who identified herself as a lesbian until God saved her from homosexuality.

While this is something many people would say is complete bull, it’s still another perspective and it’s showing (as Nash puts it,) “the other side”.  To say the least, I’m sure her presentation was a very interesting one and it probably sparked some great discussions and I’m sad Hellgate didn’t have the chance to see her presentation.

Anyways, to get back on track, what if Nash sees this upcoming school board election and decides to run or to influence one of his cronies to run? If he puts his mind to it, what’s stopping him?

So this is my cry for help. Please, someone step up and run. If you care about your children’s and the community’s youths’ education, you won’t let someone like Nash take a seat on the school board.

by jhwygirl

A friend thought to check with the school district today on the interim position that closed Wednesday afternoon at 4:30. This is what they sent:

I spoke with Leslie, the public information officer at the school district offices. She said that they had 10 applicants and that most of them came in late in the afternoon. I asked her if I could get a copy of the questions that the applicants had to answer, and she said that she could do that because it was public information, but that they needed time to go through them and make copies for each of the school board members. She said that they planned on interviewing the candidates next week, on Tuesday and Thursday. I asked her if these would be public interviews and she said “absolutely,” that “all of the interviews would be public meetings.”

I asked her when I could come and get copies of the questionnaires and she said that they were working very hard to organize everything, and she hoped they’d have a list of everyone and a news release on the website by the end of the day. So I asked her if maybe they could just put the questionnaires on the website. She paused at first, and then said that they would definitely be able to do that since making them into .pdf’s involved using the copier, and they needed to make a whole bunch of copies for the school board anyways.

Apparently, the goal is to have the new member chosen after the interviews next week and to have that person sworn in by the next March 10th meeting.

You should know that Leslie was very nice and seemed to be trying to give me as much information as possible. I did call pretty early. It was about 9:30 in the morning when I called. I’m sure she was pretty busy with that many applicants and having most of them come in late in the day.

I can only thank my supermissoulafriend here – they want no credit.

So there it is folks. I checked the website, and I can’t find anything – so it looks like the school district wasn’t able to get the list of candidates, the new releases, or the questionnaires up on the website yet. Let’s hope it’s up by Friday – after all, the public meetings are Tuesday. People do need more than a 24 hour notice to public interviews for a school board position. They should also have the information, too.

by Ana J. Beard

It isn’t hard to forget that our new Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) superintendent, Dr. Alex Apostle, has spent the last 7 years, before coming to Missoula, as a private real estate investor in Arizona when he says things like “my job [as superintendent] is very similar to remodeling a house.”

It’s even harder to forget that he has been retired from the education system since 2001 when he says “Honestly, this issue [the school board meeting on Feb. 10] should have been dealt with at a building level, but I wanted to sit back and see how this would be handled in Missoula,” when he addressed Hellgate High School faculty at a special, short-notice meeting on Feb. 17 that Apostle had called specifically to talk to the teachers about academic freedom. (He is going around, addressing every school about this as well.)

While Apostle’s intentions were pure during the meeting and as appreciative most people are that he owned up to his mistakes and didn’t place blame on anybody else with the turnout of the Big Sky censorship controversy, it was hard to ignore the snickers and whispers of the teachers around me.

Apostle kicked off the meeting by informing everybody that “academic freedom in this district will be supported.” The reaction was much like the one I see and hear in a room full of teenagers-people rolling their eyes, trying to hold back laughter, even a few whispers (my favorite one–“Bulls***”).

He told the group that he supported Kathleen Kennedy (the Big Sky teacher who, according to the school board, violated school board policy by showing her Wildlife Bio class “The Story of Stuff”) and that he had expressed his support in an e-mail to the school board.

To be completely honest, Dr. Apostle, an e-mail is NOT enough.

During the meeting, Apostle told the teachers about his proposal to create a committee that would be made up of a diverse group of staff, faculty and even students. They would go over school district policies and clarify and/or revise them. One person stood up and asked whether this plan would be carried out before or after the May 6 school board elections. Apostle said he wanted to get it out of the way as soon as possible, so, before.

At one point in the meeting I asked about the urgency to his plan: Is this really a good idea if there are members of the school board that obviously don’t have what’s best for the students at heart? It seems that there are a few board members that would just like to push their beliefs into the education system, and that is definitely not a good sign for MCPS.

The group had the opportunity to ask questions. Many people expressed concern for Kennedy, for themselves (as educators) and their curricula. Science teachers referred to the evolution unit that a few of them are just about to start and asked whether that could be the next target. One teacher stated that a precedent had already been set by Feb. 10’s school board meeting. One teacher even stood up and talked about how her own teenage daughter had been told which positions to do in order to conceive a boy or a girl in her Prep For Life class, and watched Knocked Up in english class, with no relevance to the curriculum and without parent notification (if a teacher plans on showing a movie that is rated R, they are supposed to send a note home for parent approval).

Initially, I had planned on not bringing attention to myself. My principal knew I was coming, as did a few staff members but it was supposed to be a meeting for certified teachers.  I couldn’t help myself though.

Apostle kept saying “it is obvious the community has spoken,” saying that the community agreed with the school board decision. I raised my hand, stated my name and that I wasn’t a teacher, that I was a student. Then I asked how exactly the community had spoken if there had been little student input. He talked about the letters to the editors in the Missoulian and the people that were at the initial meeting regarding “The Story of Stuff” and Kennedy.

At one point a teacher asked about the repercussions to Kennedy from the school board’s decision. Apostle attempted to answer, saying that the meeting wasn’t to punish her – that it was to review the material presented and see if it violated policy 2313.

While “The Story of Stuff” was initially questioned under 2313, that was not what the school board’s decision dealt with. Maybe he got nervous, or it was a slip of the tongue, but he had his facts wrong. I spoke up, respectfully, and said that the Feb. 10 meeting dealt with whether “The Story of Stuff” violated policy 2330, which is about academic freedom and the handling of controversial issues. While the school board ruled 4-3 that the movie violated the policy, they decided not to issue any punishments to Kennedy. Apostle seemed thrown off by being corrected by a 17 year-old. The teachers around me, once again, repressed laughter and some gave me thumbs up or said “Nice job”.

A while later I raised my hand again, it didn’t take me (or the teachers around me) long to notice that he seemed to be avoiding calling on me. A former teacher of mine even turned around at one point and whispered “I think he’s scared of you, kiddo.” Finally when I was the only one raising a hand, he called on me. “Wasn’t academic freedom created to protect teachers and to prevent something like this from happening,” I asked?

I received a very hesitant “yes.”

I continued, “If there is an open discussion with the material, isn’t that balance?” (One of the points brought up against the presentation of the movie was that there was not a balance of views.)

Apostle said that he was not in a position to review the policy at the time.

I understand that Apostle had legal limitations with what he could say in the meeting, and he chose his words carefully and answered questions to the best of his ability but the general vibe of the meeting was a tad chilly towards him.

After the meeting I approached Apostle. A science teacher was expressing his concern with how Kennedy had been targeted and how it could be any of the teachers next. Apostle told him he would just have to have faith in the administration. The teacher mentioned how Kennedy didn’t even have a chance to defend herself. Once again, I spoke up and pointed out that Kennedy did, in fact, have the chance to defend herself but had been told she didn’t need to. Apostle cut me off and said, “We told her to not even come.”

Maybe, if she hadn’t gone, the attack wouldn’t have been straight to her face. Maybe the meeting would have been less emotional. But if Kennedy had not gone to the meeting, then what chance did she stand against the school board and Mark Zuber (the Big Sky parent who had the initial complaint and spent over 100 hours working on his presentation to the school board)? You can’t defend yourself if you’re not there.

I reiterated to Apostle that I really did not believe the community had spoken. The letters to the editors and the e-mails he was referring to when he talked about “the community”, were a misrepresentation. And obviously he didn’t read the letter to the editor signed by nearly 80 people, or hear about the screening and discussion of “The Story of Stuff” at the courthouse that the Missoula County Democrats Party set up.

Few students had the chance to speak, most didn’t know how.  He said something about how he should tell the principals to inform students on how to input. I asked about his committee, would it be open to student input? He replied with what I felt was a very sarcastic response: “Do YOU want to be on the committee?” He proceeded to tell me how he hoped to include student opinion–Hellgate’s student body president, Sentinel’s student body president, but not Big Sky’s because he doesn’t want the committee to be “bias”.

Excuse me, but isn’t excluding one of Missoula’s three public high schools bias in itself?

by Pete Talbot

The message Tuesday night: school board elections are coming up and there needs to be some changes.

More than 50 people crammed into a meeting room at the county courthouse to watch the video that was banned at Big Sky High School, The Story of Stuff. The film ran about 20 minutes and was followed by an impassioned discussion.

“It’s a vocal minority,” one said, kindly, “It’s the lunatic fringe,” said another — comments aimed at the critics of the video shown in a science teacher’s classroom. There were comparisons to the Scopes Monkey Trial.

The video seemed innocuous to me; simple, almost cartoonish, but informative. It raised questions – which is what high school should be about.

The big issue was balance. Does a teacher have a responsibility to present opposing views? The teacher in question encouraged discussion after the film. And we’re talking science here but some parents keep challenging evolution and global warming and consumption — and all they’re kids have to do is turn on the TV for balance: don’t question, buy this, you’re not cool if you don’t wear that, listen to this, drive that.

So at what point does a teacher offer balance against truth?

The meeting was sponsored by the Missoula County Democrats. They passed a resolution, unanimously, condemning the board’s vote and supporting a teacher’s right to present a thought-provoking curriculum.

Ana, a Hellgate High School student, says it more eloquently than I.

(And the school board wants to censor materials that would be viewed by articulate, thoughtful students like Ana. Promoted by Pete Talbot. Here’s some background, if you haven’t been following this story.)

My First School Board Meeting

By Ana Beard, Hellgate High School Senior

In addition to being a Hellgate High School senior, I am the Editorials Editor for our school newspaper, The Lance. My Senior Project is to raise awareness about discrimination and diversity through the use of journalism. I chose this project after Diversity Week last year, when students wore T-Shirts that said FTQ (F*ck The Queers) and saw no repercussions. This project has opened my eyes to a completely new world.


A year ago, if I had heard about the school board meeting that took place on Jan. 29, 2009, I would have been concerned but not active. Last year the school board ruled memorials unacceptable for school settings because they made it “harder to get past a classmate’s death”. The Lance staff, along with The Halberd staff (yearbook), strongly opposed this decision. However, it never occurred to me to speak up other than to write a column that few administrators even read. This time is different. In the last week I have been affected as a journalist, student, tax payer and community member. With further thought, research, and support from friends and mentors, I learned that I can do more than write a few hundred word story for a high school publication—I can take my argument directly to the school board and if they don’t listen, I can elect a new one.


I spoke up in every class about the meeting and the decision about the “Stuff” video. I tried to start open discussions and encouraged my peers to attend the meeting. I even snuck into Big Sky High School during class one day to reach out to students over there and let them know we cared too. The student turn-out at the meeting was ok, about 15 in total. But the support from the public and my peers who were not present was empowering.


We were all pretty hesitant to stand up and speak first, only two of our group of high schoolers even knew how meetings ran and how to give input. It was a “no, YOU go first” type of situation. The first two community members who spoke gave ME the confidence I needed to get out of my chair and stand in line. It was clear that all the people waiting in line to have their say were there for the same reason (except one guy). That gave me the hope and courage to face a room full of people I didn’t know. I stood, nervous at first, before the board and read a statement I had written earlier. I soon realized I had no reason to be scared. I care strongly about this issue and I knew I had a respectful, very strongly written piece.


I explained the implied censorship the school board’s decision had created. I pointed out that a few students’ and one parent complaint did not justify such a decision. There should have been more student input and the school board should have reached out to classrooms. I confessed that I had watched the video and while I disagreed with some of the points it brought forth, I didn’t feel the need to remove it from schools. I spoke for myself and my peers when I said that our favorite teachers are the ones who push our buttons, inspire us use our minds, and who don’t follow boring text books.


My closing statement, I feel, really hit home with some of the board members (except Rick Johns who was scowling the whole time). “If my generation is the ‘future’, censorship is only setting us up to fail. We are nearly adults and we need to be treated as such. We want our right to a well-rounded education, including exposure to controversial materials and the opportunity to discuss them and form our OWN, INDEPENDENT opinions. Please, I encourage you to overturn this decision.”


My peers had equally important and strong arguments that were presented in a passionate and respectful manner. As I went back to my chair, my friends gave me big smiles and “good jobs”. Each student who spoke and returned to our group got the same support. I can speak for all of us when I say that we felt we had done our part…so far.




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