View from the sidelines during the 2017 LPHS homecoming game. The Big Sky School District Board recently set the date for the 2018 homecoming.

School board summer session

Talking enrollment, staffing and teacher scholarships

It may be summer, but the Big Sky School District Board of Directors still meets monthly to ensure things run smoothly year-round. Here’s a recap from the latest meeting.

Enrollment update

     During his June 29 report, BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman highlighted the latest enrollment numbers—coming in at 366, plus or minus seven to 10 kids. 

     That number is important because state funds depend on student totals. Class size also comes into play—for example, Shipman noted that the upcoming first grade class is sitting at 22 students—two over state accreditation standards. One student will have a one-to-one fulltime aide, but that means the school will still need to hire a part-time para educator to ensure proper instruction. 

     “It looks like we are kind of leveling off enrollment wise,” Shipman said. “But let’s just wait and see what happens. This demographic (Big Sky) is probably the toughest one to put your finger on, in all of Montana.”

     Board Chair Loren Bough offered this observation, “Next year’s seniors are the smallest class by far, at 16. After they graduate we have no class below 21 or 22, so we’ve definitely passed that threshold with a range between 21 and 36. That’s pretty remarkable.”

     This indicates the high school is growing. 

     “And what that means is we won’t be class C for that much longer,” Bough said. “But we are going to hold on as long as possible. And when we’re class B, we’ll play Three Forks, Townsend, Whitehall, so it’ll actually be shorter commutes.”

     Later in the meeting, Bough asked BSSD Business Manager Corky Miller about what happens when, after five years of steady student growth and the state funds that come along with that, the district begins seeing less of a leap in enrollment. 

     “We will have to take a very close look at current staffing and payroll going forward,” said Miller, who was just finishing up the current fiscal year. “For fiscal year 19 we’re fine. Beyond that we’ll need to start looking at where we are at in the future.”

     Fiscal years 2018 and 2019 will see about 83 percent of the school’s general fund going to salaries and benefits. 

Staffing, scheduling for the 2018-19 school year

     The only positions left to hire are a middle school generalist and a counselor. A counselor was approved at the last meeting, an offer was made, but the candidate turned it down as she was offered a position in Bozeman. Shipman said another strong candidate has been interviewed, and in August he hopes to recommend her hiring to the board.

     The current, unnamed counseling candidate worked at International Baccalaureate schools for 11 years in Charlotte N.C., where student enrollment was around 1,000. 

     “She’s proven to be strong in that emotional, social, academic and personal growth in kids, and coming from a larger district, she’s gotten so many opportunities for development. We’re really excited about her,” said Shipman, who was hopeful she would be the right candidate for the position. “I feel confident it’s going to be a good fit, and for her as well.”

     Principal Alex Ide said he is also hopeful the generalist position will be filled soon. 

     Ide then touched upon fall scheduling. Expedition Week, where middle and high school students spend their first week of class camping and backpacking in the wild is officially a go. Homecoming is also in the works, planned for the week of Sept. 17. 

     “It caught us off guard how quick it came up last year, so we are planning now,” Ide said. “Working with a number of people to coordinate an even more robust event.”

     Shipman noted that any community organization is welcome to create a float for the homecoming parade. Those interested can contact Principal Ide at to sign up to participate. 

Official ACT results are in

     The 16 BSSD juniors averaged 23.2 for their ACT tests taken in the spring of 2018. The juniors of 2017 averaged an ACT score of 23.1—and had the highest overall average in the state.

     As for the 2018 scores, the results from the rest of the state will be issued in the fall. 

     “We’ll see where we benchmark,” said Ide. “I think we will still be pretty high.”

Teacher education scholarships

     Through the Ophir School Funds program, several teachers were granted scholarships to help pay for student loans or higher education. The OSF committee recommended approving art educator Megan Buecking’s request for $7,500 in student loan reimbursement, $15,000 for high school/middle school math teacher Sydney Garmer to pursue a master’s degree, and $15,000 for IB Curriculum Coordinator Dr. Marlo Mitchem to pursue a master’s of education with a principal endorsement. 

     Bough explained: Money for the OSF program was raised 15 years ago from the original Yellowstone Club prior to bankruptcy. The funds are now under the school board’s control and the OSF Advisory Committee—which Bough serves on—makes recommendations to the school board. 

     “The monies were originally approved to make $5,000 allocations to teachers to allow them to buy a house in Big Sky,” Bough said. “We miss those days, but the goal has always been to help pay for staff, staff training, and to make this an attractive place to work.”

     Funds are entirely at the discretion of the school board, which approved the advisory committee’s recommendations. 

     Teachers can be granted up to $5,000 per year via the OSF program. Once approved for funds, teachers agree to stay on with the district for three years following the completion of their education.

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