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Frenchtown schools see changes 3 years into strategic plan

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FRENCHTOWN, Mont. - Teachers at Frenchtown schools will get five more days of professional training this year. It’s the most recent change implemented under a five-year strategic plan.

The school district is in year three of the plan, with changes focused in six goal areas: educational fidelity and purpose, technology, safety and security, facilities, wellness and community engagement. 

The first, education fidelity and purpose, is why teachers now have 15 days of early out for professional development time. 

“Everything in academics always goes back to the teachers you have in the classrooms and the principals you have in the front offices,” said Superintendent Randy Cline. 

That area also includes changes to the kindergarten program, giving students an option for two years in kindergarten, called a transitional kindergarten.  The math and science programs were adjusted to meet national standards. 

The second goal area, technology, is why Chromebooks are now available in classrooms.  

“(Chromebooks) puts a lot of tools in their hands, not just for word processing but maybe for struggling learners to use different applications to help them better understand certain materials,” said Tony Davis, a seventh grade world history teacher. He says it also lets students do immediate research, a talk to text option and numerous other classroom apps. 

The third goal area is safety and security.  All school doors are locked so visitors have to be buzzed in to get inside. At the elementary school campus they added windows to the front office so workers can see everyone who enters the doors. Security cameras at both campuses were also a big part of it. 

As for the facilities part of the plan, it began with building a campaign for a $750,000 infrastructure levy. That passed, so today there’s a new roof on the elementary school, a boiler being installed in the junior high and a bathroom/concession stand/storage facility being built on the softball field just in time to host the Class A state softball tournament. 

“We’ve never had restrooms out on our softball field before other than bringing in port-a-potties,” said Cline.

The community engagement goal is an effort to get parents more involved and to open the schools up for more organizations. 

As for wellness, junior high students now have a PE class five days a week instead of every other day. 

Gym teacher Ryne Nelson says physical education helps kids stay healthy but also helps in the classrooms.

“It brings more oxygen to the brain, and it actually helps in learning.  You can see the release with the students in the physical education classes," said Nelson. 

The wellness goal also includes nutrition. All breads are now whole wheat, but there’s a much bigger project in the works involving a greenhouse. 

Freedom Gardens will build a greenhouse on the elementary school campus. Students will grow their own food that will be served in the lunchrooms. 

"Both (the greenhouse) and the PE program are designed to combat childhood obesity, which has been a problem everywhere," said Cline. 

The greenhouse project will be funded by Freedom Gardens, while a lot of the projects were paid for out of the regular budget.  That had to be drawn from reserve funds while the district was waiting on back taxes from the old Smurfit Stone Mill site. The school did get the tax money and used it to refill the reserves.    

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