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Ronan Schools prep for school year with building improvements and teacher training

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

Ronan School District swings into the upcoming school year with an emphasis on facility improvement and teacher development. School begins with an open house 4-6 p.m Aug. 28 and students return Aug. 29.

Ronan School District superintendent Mark Johnston had, much like many other Lake County superintendents, a busy summer planning for the upcoming school year and many new developments with the biggest being a new heating system.

The high school switched from steam heat to electric heat which will basically eliminate any type of leakage from the heating process.

Johnston also mentioned the first phase of a two-phase project that will change the entrances to some schools by adding metal detectors. Many schools, including those in neighboring Missoula County, have implemented similar devices to improve school safety. Johnston also mentioned a new fob system that will improve security in classrooms.

“It'll control access points much better,” Johnston said. “We are putting a breezeway in (the high school) so that people will come into an area and then we'll be able to control their access to the school. We're waiting on the doors for that project.”

In addition, there were many general improvements made around the school district’s buildings including improvements to the career center which holds classes like shop, home economics and agriculture.

The next major item that the district addressed over the summer was in-depth teacher training aimed at improving teachers' understanding of the curriculum while also sharpening their skills in the offseason.

“When talking with staff members that have been to the trainings, they think that really has helped them,” Johnston said. “So, we're pretty excited to see what the end result will be.”

One major challenge Ronan School District faces is nothing new to school districts nationally and that is finding help.

“We're constantly looking for a lot of our classified positions,” Johnston said. “We're quite a few short in our special education department on paraprofessionals. We have been fairly fortunate in finding certified staff.”

Johnston mentioned that it is also hard finding speech-language pathologists to work in the schools, and noted that there don’t seem to be a lot of graduates in that field.

While he mentioned finding success in hiring licensed positions for the school district, Johnston also recognizes how hard it is to find housing in western Montana.

“We'll start teachers off at $42,000, but it doesn't take long to figure out that $42,000 and a $1,600 rent payment don't go very well together,” Johnston said. “So that's one of the challenges. Right now we're in the process of looking at building a couple of duplexes that hopefully will allow us to get people in places with decent rent.”

Even with those staffing struggles, Johnston said that both the elementary schools in the district are on the same reading curriculum now, something he hopes will contribute to lower drop-out rates in the future.

“I think we've really worked hard at working with the parents, working with kids, and because of that, we've really seen our graduation rate continually increase,” Johnston said. “So, we are very excited about continuing in that direction.”