Monthly team huddle at BSSD

Nine teachers out, project bid, Ennis expansion, and early enrollment qualifications


Big Sky School District staff and board members circled up on Tuesday, Jan. 11, to touch base during their monthly meeting to discuss upcoming events, academics, student life and policy changes.


When news broke a few weeks ago that the district was considering a preschool program, the Big Sky community responded with overwhelming positivity, according to Dr. Shipman. Currently, there are only two childcare options in Big Sky: Morning Star Learning Center and Discovery Academy. However, Dr. Shipman explained there was some misunderstanding during the recent BSSD meeting.

“This is the [3100] policy we read last time that allows the district to enroll students in exceptional circumstances. I need to make really, really, really clear for everybody in attendance, everywhere, this is not a preschool policy. This is an early enrollment under exceptional circumstances policy. It’s the same thing we’ve been doing forever… we just define those circumstances so that there will be more kids we can enroll under exceptional circumstances,” said Shipman.

“We worked really closely with the Montana School Boards Association to come up with these [exceptional circumstances]. Really what we are seeing across the state are these early enrollments,” said Shipman.

Enrollment will be limited to 20 children and will apply to children three years of age with a disability, or children four years of age or older on September 10th of the qualifying school year.

The five exceptional circumstances include:

1. Anticipated learning loss resulting from a public health emergency or other community disaster.

2. Basic literacy and numeracy are critical skills needed to advance learning and if not attained in the early grades, will put students at lifelong disadvantage in pursuing success in career and life.

3. Absence of available early childhood education opportunities in the community results in anticipated learning loss or lack of school readiness.

4. Cost prohibitive nature of early childhood education opportunities in the community results in disparity of access that contributes to anticipated learning loss or lack of school readiness.

5. Improved access to early childhood education opportunities in the community will encourage or expand parent entry into workforce and allow for further development of the community’s economy.

To learn more about the early enrollment program at BSSD, please reach out to the district for more specific information on their Early enrollment under exceptional circumstances policy (#3100).


Next up, board members Stacy Ossorio and Loren Bough discussed the joint board meeting between Ennis School District and BSSD on Jan. 5. The meeting was designed to discuss the $59 million dollar school expansion for Ennis and create a line of dialogue between districts.

Frustration arose from Big Sky community members who would be on the hook for the large price tag as Madison County taxpayers. In total, 5.7% of students who attend BSSD live in Big Sky, but their homes sit within Madison County. According to data from the Montana Department of Revenue, 87% of the property tax collection for Ennis School District comes from Big Sky homes.

ESD (Ennis School District) will hold an open house from 1-3 p.m. in the Ennis High School lobby on Jan. 22 to talk about the district’s proposed expansion project with interested members of the community. The ESD bond will likely be decided by the 88% of voters who do not live in Big Sky, but that number could change in the future.


Dr. Mitchem, the principal of Ophir Middle School and Lone Peak High School, said the high school is in “full end of semester mode” and the ACT is set for March 29th for eleventh graders. In addition, ski days are coming up in the next few weeks thanks to support from the Resort and Parent Teacher Organization. Students in the IB program are also starting exam season and seniors are submitting their Internal Assessments to their teachers for evaluation.

At Ophir elementary school, principal Brittany Shirley explained teachers are working on professional development, specific dyslexia training, and preparing for a Brené Brown read-along.


A series of new policies for sports across the state will be voted on at an upcoming meeting athletic director John Hannahs explained to the group. One would allow eighth graders to join high school sport’s teams at the school’s discretion to help solve team shortages; another would prevent all transfer students from playing sports their first year at a new school; a third proposed a 35 second shot clock for all classes of basketball; and a fourth proposed officially sanctioning boys’ baseball and thereby girls’ softball into high school sports for Class C.


Cristie Tate, a representative hired by BSSD, explained phase two of the bidding process for the BSSD expansion opened last week. Earlier this year the school board decided to delay the project because all the bids came back over budget due to increased COVID-19 construction costs.

Phase two of the expansion will include a 14,000 square foot lab, a 25,000 square foot gym expansion, and a septic field. Phase one, which was bid back in April 2021, included the track and turf field, lighting, bleachers, and fire tanks.

Tate expected the Jan. 13 bidding process to go well, although she mentioned the project was still short on plumbers. The Lookout will circle back next week to get the scoop on how phase two panned out.


Across all levels of BSSD last week, teachers were hard to come by. In total, nine faculty members were unavailable for work over the course of the week with three out for the entirety.

Five teachers were asked for comment, but none responded to questions about how the district is adapting to staff shortages or what the process looks like if you are sick. As schools across the nation struggle to balance positive cases with in-person learning, locally BSSD also struggled with teacher shortages.

“Everyone helps fill in the holes. All teachers, when they have a free period during the day, all support staff, admin including myself, Dr. Mitchem, and Elementary school principal Brittany Shirley. It helped that we were in a good place in the semester to have the 11th and 12th graders prepare for their semester exams at home, that opened up some more flexibility for us,” wrote Dr. Shipman in an email.


The next BSSD monthly meeting will be held on Zoom and in-person on Feb. 15 at 3:45 p.m.

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