Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Building projects and student attendance on Polson School District’s agenda

by Max Dupras/ Intern Reporter
| August 24, 2023 12:00 AM

Polson School District is coming off of passing two bonds last spring totaling $40 million and will be looking to make the schools of Polson more welcoming – a change that will hopefully help tackle dwindling attendance numbers.

Polson School District superintendent Mike Cutler oversaw the passage of those two bonds this spring and said that this summer has included trying to find a general contractor for the school district’s upcoming building projects.

Projects will include general improvements to buildings across the district including making all four buildings safer and improving the facilities for career and technical education. Some of the buildings are over 70 years old.

The next point of action for Polson's schools is to improve attendance. During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, disruptions in traditional face-to-face learning caused a lack of student engagement for students nationally.

Now, with schools nationwide going back to in-person learning, Cutler hopes to increase attendance rates across the district.

“We didn't have many disruptions as far as remote learning or any of that,” Cutler said of the COVID era. “It was exciting to get back to a normal school year and so on and so forth, but with that being said, we still have some residual concerns about student attendance. So, we've got to do a better job of engaging our parents and getting our students in our schools.”

Cutler said he found this last school year to be both reinvigorating with the return to a “normal” teaching environment and challenging with the added loss of students not going to school at the same rate they were post-COVID.

One of Cutler’s goals this year is to help alleviate some of the pains of reintegrating kids back into normal school life by forming a committee to improve engagement with kids and their parents.

“We have a school improvement committee and our number-one focus this year is going to be student-parent engagement,” Cutler said. “We've got to get our students in our schools. Attendance is a national problem right now, it's a state problem and it's a local problem. We've got to put our heads together and try and figure out a way to get our students here and keep them here.”

Another goal is to build relationships for students where they are not only engaged in the classroom but they are successful there as well.

“As a superintendent of this district, one of the biggest things on my mind is student achievement,” he said.

Another challenge this year for the district is addressing the teacher shortage which comes at a time when the cost of housing nationwide has spiked and, in places like Polson, it is hard for teachers to move into a lakeside community without spending a lot of money.

While Polson School District has a good supply of licensed teachers at the moment, it is still looking for more bus drivers and custodial staff at all the different schools.

The school year is officially on the forefront of everyone’s mind as Polson School District starts up with high school orientation on Aug. 23 and the first day next Tuesday, Aug. 29. Cutler looks forward to troubleshooting attendance issues while increasing general engagement at every grade level.

“We’re trying to improve that student-teacher relationship and trying to get those kids to feel more comfortable going into schools,” Cutler said. “We've got to start building better relationships with parents. We've looked at incentivizing good student attendance and things like that. So right now we're at the strategizing point with our school improvement committee to tackle this issue.”

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