Considers changing 99-year-old district name from Ophir

By Taylor Anderson, Big Sky Weekly Assistant Editor

Jerry House is a systems guy.

The 41-year veteran of education is in the middle of his first year acting as Superintendent of Ophir School District in Big Sky. His history of teaching and supervising school districts in Washington and Whitefish gave him insight into larger districts, which has followed him to Big Sky.

After about six months in the position, House (and a three-person committee) has proposed changing the district name and redeveloping the high school curriculum.

“We don’t have a map right now, kids are signing up for classes at will,” House said. “We want the student to have so many skills when they walk out of here that they’re competent.”

House has worked on a three-person committee—alongside school board member Barbara Rowley and teacher and athletic director Tony Beardsley—considering increasing the curriculum. The change would move graduation requirements from the current 22-credit graduation requirement to a 27–32 credit requirement to obtain a diploma from Lone Peak High School.

Starting with freshman, those who earn 27-29 credits would qualify a student for a diploma and 30-32 for a diploma with honors.

The changes would increase the required math, science and social studies credits from three to four credits, a second year of foreign language, and a three-credit service project that students complete over their four years at school.

Part of the committee proposal includes a Capstone Project, a five-step program that begins by outlining the high school process to eighth grade students. The program aims to integrate students with the high school and the community.

The committee is also considering changing the 99-year-old Ophir School District to one they believe gives a better sense of place: Big Sky School District.

Eleven parents weighed in at a public forum in the Big Sky Chapel Jan. 23 during the committee’s proposal. It was the second of three consecutive weekly forums to discuss the proposal.

The consensus from the first two meetings, according to many at the meeting: We may need to first improve the quality of education rather than increase course load.

“I’ve seen so many hours of homework to the point of weekends don’t exist,” Erik Lovold said, to which other parents agreed.

House agreed as well, and said he would work with the faculty on finding a “uniformity and consistency” when it comes to teaching students, rather than increasing homework.

Diane Bartzick, a parent of a sophomore and an eighth grade student, said the proposal is a great start to improving the education of Lone Peak’s students, but that the school needs to make changes logically.

“Once they improve on what we have and make class offerings more available for kids that can’t get into existing courses… you can review increasing the core curriculum,” she said.

Bartzick said she’d rather increase in “baby steps,” and that an increase of three credits for incoming freshmen would be appropriate.

With the current block scheduling system in place, students can take eight credits each year, allowing those that take full course loads to graduate in 3 years.

Many expressed belief that students may not be ready to enter college without more time at high school. Another concern was the practicality of increasing the courses offered, with the current limited space and scheduling conflicts at the school.

But House and the committee said the only personnel needed for adding the credits would be moving the current math teacher from part time to full time, and hiring a part time faculty member to oversee internship and school-business partnerships.

However, at the end of the meeting, House announced that Beardsley’s is being shared with another teacher because of lack of office space.

There is one more community forum on Jan. 30 in the Lone Peak Cinema before the committee makes its board recommendation on Feb. 18 during a public meeting.[/dsc_p]

taylor@theoutlawpartners.com