LAKESIDE — It was like the first day of school all over again. Streams of energetic children flooded the hallways of Lakeside Elementary, this time pulling their parents through the school with an anxious to-do list: show off the colorful drawings and other art projects that lined the walls; proudly introduce their new teacher; and, of course, point out which desk was theirs in the classroom.
“It’s the best opening we’ve had,” Principal John Thies said during the open house event.
Nestled in the heart of the small community on the shores of Flathead Lake, Lakeside Elementary is celebrating its 15th anniversary this fall. The school, situated just off Highway 93 with the lake in the backdrop, has 375 students enrolled in kindergarten through fifth grade. With a staff of nearly 30 certified teachers, Lakeside offers the opportunity to local residents to send their kids to their community school instead of bussing students to Somers or Kalispell.
Lakeside was one of three schools in Montana nominated in 2010 for the National Blue Ribbon Schools Award, which recognizes schools that have at least 40 percent of their students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and have improved performance in reading and math and made significant progress in closing the achievement gap.
“I think our community feels really welcome here and I think they feel comfortable to ask questions if they’re concerned about their child,” said Thies, in his 11th year as principal. “I feel like we’re receptive here. Our teachers are very dedicated. They go way above and beyond.”
Kindergarten teacher Mary Torgerson is entering her 30th year of teaching elementary school in the district. She keeps a scrapbook in her classroom showing pictures from before the elementary building was constructed in 1998. There was only a small school with six classrooms in Lakeside. The classes were always full and eventually, as the community kept growing, young students were moved down to Somers.
“It’s been great to have this building and a nice gym so we can host tournaments and holiday fests and all kinds of community events,” she said. “To have a nice new bright building, it’s just a great feeling.”
For Kalispell native Bri Ori, Lakeside Elementary has become her first opportunity to be a teacher. The Flathead High alum graduated from the University of Montana last spring and hoped to substitute as a physical education teacher before finding a full-time job. But two weeks before school started, she got a job offer in Lakeside.
“I’ve always gone to school and been the one in front of the teacher. But now to be the teacher is really exciting,” she said. “My first day I felt like I totally belonged and knew this was what I was supposed to be doing.”
The benefits of working in a small community school were immediately apparent for Ori, and the transition proved smoother than expected.
“The staff is amazing here. They are very welcoming. I didn’t feel like I was one of the new people. I was instantly welcomed,” she said. “And the community really comes out to support a place like this. It’s a great place to be.”
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