Sometimes it takes a person from the outside looking in to put things into perspective. As principal of Flathead High School, my world revolves around this school on the west side of Kalispell. Being one of the largest high schools in Montana, we have to do many things well. We must do so on limited funds and within the many constraints of the system.
Our International Baccalaureate program, where students pursue advanced academic preparation in many subject areas, recently boasted a 92% pass rate for its external 2021 summative exams. The international pass rate for International Baccalaureate exams is 79%. This means that our students perform well above the international average, taking their academics seriously and pursuing them with diligence. This requires high quality instruction from our teachers.
In May of 2021, our student built house construction class completed its sixth house. Every year, students in this class work on a new job site, from site preparation in September to finish work in May, covering all aspects of house construction over an entire school year. These students learn valuable skills in the construction trades, and many land high paying jobs right out of high school.
In the fine arts, our students excel in speech and debate, bringing home trophies each year after competing with the rest of the state AA schools. They have the opportunity to take band, choir, guitar, orchestra, and also music electives. FHS students also can participate in our theater program, where our black box theater in the fine arts wing and our 750-seat auditorium provide some of the finest facilities in the state.
Athletics and activities garner wide participation as well. The FHS wrestling program, now including both boys and girls, is well known for excellence. Our district supports all levels of athletics, so that students from freshmen to varsity levels find a team, coaching staff, and peers who share their passion for athletics.
While we offer many things to many types of students, providing a comprehensive education to any student who walks in our doors has also become more complex every year, when challenges like food insecurity, access to healthcare, homelessness, and mental health supports are positioned right alongside academics. Helping students become productive citizens, lifelong learners, and good people becomes a little more daunting of a task each year. Criticism of public education has also increased tremendously in recent years, occurring both at the national level and also locally.
A recent out-of-state visitor toured Flathead High School, and while walking around our building this person remarked, “I can’t believe you have all of these wonderful things in your school. Where I come from, public schools don’t look anything like this.” Her comments made me realize we have lots to be proud of at FHS and in the Flathead Valley. Our schools will continue to find a way to provide a quality education for all students.
Michele Paine is the principal at Flathead High School.
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