LETTER: Forging Community Partnerships

By Beacon Staff

When schools, parents and communities collaborate for the improvement of the local schools: everyone wins. At the “packed house” cross town football game our community supported the activity programs from both high schools with their presence and by purchasing raffle tickets for the Toyota Scion, donated by Kalispell Toyota, which was given away during the game. Just to name a few of our current community school partnerships: Applied Materials recently awarded a $25,000 grant to enhance our new staff mentoring program and Bridges (a parent support group for autism) and Oro Y Plata foundation have combined their resources to implement a pilot inclusion program for our students with autism. Several of the local nonprofits, along with one of our student service groups, came together to provide over two hundred new backpacks to students in need and Glacier Bank provided its annual support for our “Welcome Back” staff meeting. This is just a sample of how many of our local businesses donate both time and financial support to our schools.

An east access to Glacier High School is being installed right now. Engineered out in the original design because of lack of funds, the driveway will fill the need at less than one quarter of the cost of the original project. The first step was the DNRC (Department of Natural Resources) coming forward with money it had earmarked for the development of business along Wolfpack Way. Next was the ongoing partnership between Kalispell Public Schools and the FVCC heavy equipment class, which is supplying the movement of material at only the cost of the fuel. The last part is the generosity of community members Bruce Tutvedt, Al Schellinger through Schellinger Construction and Jeff Claridge through LHC, Inc., who donated most of the material that will establish the base for the access. With some mild weather the access could be ready for traffic within a month or so, and at less cost than even dreamed possible.

Our community offers a wide range of resources that are valuable to the schools and families they serve. These resources include people who volunteer their time in the school, organizations that offer enrichment opportunities, businesses that offer career-related information and workplace experiences, and agencies that provide social services for students and families. Over 90 professionals volunteered to participate in the Freshman Career Field Day. Junior College and Career day held at FVCC is a meaningful, personal college experience for all juniors to promote post high school education. The partnership with FVCC is a rich one for our students. Our high school students have the opportunity to take classes on campus in the Running Start program that gives them a taste of being a college student and the shared modern equipment and facility space for some of vocational technology programs located in the new Technology Center at the college has been an asset and popular choice for students enrolled in both high school and college programs.

Communities are rich in untapped resources that can benefit children. When families and community members volunteer their time and talent in the schools, both schools and students increase their capacity to do more and to do it better. Schools need to be committed to developing critical thinking skills and real-world applications of knowledge as well as providing necessary services and enrichment activities. In order to open these doors we need to forge new relationships with the community. If schools increase opportunities for community members to become acquainted with the schools as well as for school staff to know the community better, it is an asset for all of our students. The use of local resources such as museums or libraries, a trip to one of our many natural resource sites, an afternoon with the Glacier Symphony and Chorale, a tour of a local business or bringing “real life” mentors and speakers into the classrooms can provide the needed spark of relevance to a student. We encourage the businesses in our community to add to this partnership by working with their employees so that parents can support their children by occasionally participating as volunteers at the child’s school or being a visiting “expert” on some topic.

It is the responsibility of our school district to make these actions reciprocal. Schools should continue to be the center of activities and community events. We continue to seek new and varied ways to open our doors and invite the public to participate in schools both during and after hours, and details on potential opportunities will follow in future articles about our schools. Research tells us that the benefits of family and community involvement in schools include higher test scores and grades, better attendance, higher graduation rates, more positive attitudes and behavior and greater enrollment in higher education. If the school, home and local community create a partnership in which we share responsibility for children’s learning, the result is improved learning for all students and strengthened schools, families and communities.

Darlene Schottle, Kalispell Public Schools superintendent
Alice Ritzman, Kalispell Public Schools board of trustee member

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