Superintendent of Missoula School District One Rob Watson spoke to KGVO News on Thursday on a variety of subjects as this most challenging COVID 19 school year comes to a close.

Watson laid out the plans for high school graduation in June.

“We'll have graduation on June 4 for our large high schools, including Big Sky, Sentinel and Hellgate,” said Watson. “It will be on June 4, and we're using Washington Grizzly Stadium so hope for great weather there because it will be outside. Students will be allowed to select up to 10 seats per graduate. We'll be asking families to sit together and social distance.”

Watson said funds from ARPA carry with them certain requirements for school districts.

“New regulations that came with the latest stimulus package from the federal government mean we are receiving some more money next year from that third stimulus package,” he said. One of the requirements is that we have to develop a reopening plan for next fall. So we're really in the first stages of that, and we’re talking through some of that. I think the main questions I'm getting are what about masks and we've asked that masks remain in place for the remainder of the school year.”

As far as getting back to a normal school year in September, Watson said one of the challenges is making sure all grades from kindergarten through high school will have to be vaccinated.

“Are vaccines available for all our students?” he asked. “Currently they're not, so that age group of five to 11 year olds, there's still no vaccine availability for them yet. If that gets approved over the summer, then that's really going to help us and we’ll encourage our students to get vaccinated and we'll have to watch how all that plays out. Those are some of the decisions that will go into masks next year, such as are the number of students vaccinated for COVID increasing or decreasing, or remaining steady or low in our community, that will factor into the decision.”

Watson said he was pleasantly surprised at the numbers for how students fared academically during the challenging COVID school year with a mix of in class and at home learning.

“When we looked at the Winter Assessment we found some really interesting stuff,” he said. “We did the assessment in January of this year, but we also did it in January of last year, which was pre COVID before the shutdown, and what we noticed was that the drops in reading and math were not as dramatic as we thought they would be. That tells me a couple of things. I think kids are pretty resilient but also, a really important skill like a reading skill they seem to be keeping up on that even during the shutdown because the actual reading scores that we're seeing, from this January to last January, were not that much different.”

Click here for more details about MCPS District One.


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