Great Falls Public Schools are offering 6 separate forums over the next few months to continue to grow communications and relations with the community. Tom Moore, Superintendent, Great Falls Public Schools visited with the Central MT Radio Network about the first one coming up.


Talk about some of the activities and forums you have coming up.


Tom: Well, spring is a busy time, and so we're doing a lot of hiring still. We'll have resignations and retirements (this spring), so we focus on making sure we have high quality folks in the jobs that are necessary to take care of our kids. But what we're doing in terms of connection with the community this spring is a series of forums. Last year. We did our Citizens Academy. This year, we decided to interact in a little different way and open it up to a broader community, focus on things that we believe are important to the community. So focusing on how students are doing COVID was definitely a chaotic time period, and it was unsettling for all of us. And how it affected our children is extremely important to us in the school district, obviously, but in the community. And parents and grandparents and family members are concerned about how our kids are doing, not just academically, but how are they doing emotionally and psychologically and so forth and physically. So the first forum that we're going to have is this month in February. It's coming up Thursday, February 2, at the University of Providence.


So we're partnering with community agencies and entities and individuals to highlight some of these different aspects of what's going on relative to the school district. And this one starts on Thursday night with a focus on student wellness, youth wellness. How are our kids doing? So there'll be some statistics and some facts that are presented at the beginning of the forum and then a panel of six or seven community experts that deal with youth wellness. And those panels still have about five minutes to talk about some of the things that they're doing to address wellness issues for our youth in the community. So alliance for Youth United Way, the University of Providence, and their counseling staff and their teams. Because when we talk about youth, we're not just talking about middle school and high school kids, we're talking about elementary, middle school, preschool kids, and all the way through college. They're still youth, right? And they're struggling some with wellness issues. Even in the university and in the military, when young people leave home and they go out to college or they go to work or they go into the military, they're still struggling with some issues of wellness. And all of these entities know that. And so we're setting up support systems or we're keying in on how to help these young people in transition from school to career in college and so forth.


So the University of Providence is partnering with us as well. We'll have some of our own team there counselors, administrators to talk a little bit, some medical folks from the healthcare industry and faith based representative talk about what some of our churches are doing. And our Director of Indian Education will be there talking about our Native American students and some of the diversity issues around student wellness. So we're excited about that. The whole format is to interact with the community so it's not just sit and get, it's interaction with these panelists about the issues and then what we're doing about it, and hopefully some new ideas about what more we can do and who else we need to be partnering with to help our youth thrive in this community. That's the goal, is what can we do to help ensure that our kids are thriving? I've heard some wonderful stories. I was over at Great Falls High School a week or so ago, Dylan, on an invitation with a group of student leaders who are trying to change the culture of their school around diversity issues. And these are student leaders, really dynamic young people. They're doing a great job of taking on the responsibility of addressing those difficult issues around diversity. They're so inflammatory right now across their country and the globe. But here in Great Falls and at that particular high school, what are their student leaders doing to address how we treat one another, the culture within their schools? And so I'm encouraged by a lot of what I'm seeing right now. But there are challenges still.


What is the number one problem in Great Falls for our youth


Tom: food insecurities, instability in housing and home kinds of issues, having a grounded place for a lot of kids, some of the student wellness issues around mental health and anxiety, depression. That equation, the use of drugs and alcohol is problematic as well. Social media and its impact on youth is extremely problematic for a lot of children and families. And so having parents and grandparents and care providers understanding some of the complexities of kids interaction and social media, and actually, we're going to focus more on that in April during the no More Violence Week. That'll be another forum that we are co hosting with the folks who are sponsoring the no More Violence Week. But the focus will be on school safety, but on student safety as well, and what parents and community members and folks need to know about how you help your kids be safe in their social media interactions. It's a huge problem. There's a lot of predators out there that use social media to engage people who are vulnerable and young people. And so helping folks to understand that. We'll couple that with the school safety thing in April. Thursday, February 2, university of Providence.


Who's invited

Tom: the entire community? Anybody who cares about youth and youth wellness and wants to know what are we doing to address these issues in the school district and across the community with partners? And if you have passion or ideas or questions, we'd love to have you there to interact with the panel and to help us generate some new thinking or new ideas about what we can do differently to address this important issue.


What time, what building, and what do we need to do to register to be there


Tom: You don't need to do anything to register to show up. It begins at 6:00 pm. It's in the University Of Providence Conference Center in the main new building. As you come into the campus there, it's upstairs. As you come up the stairs into the conference center there, it's to the right in one of those bays. There'll be signs there and greeting folks. But again, it's from six to 730. The format is, again, just informative on the front end and then dialogue and interaction back and forth with the audience and the panel.


What is the upcoming list of meetings you're going to have down the road just to touch on what you're doing


Tom: February is this Focus on Youth Wellness.


March is a focus on our legislative issues. So we'll have a forum I think it's March 7 with our legislators and people in the community that are concerned about legislative issues, not just relative to school, but business and legal stuff. And then also in March, a community forum on the school district budget. So this is an annual thing that we do, but we're having a forum to interact with our community. And sometimes it's very well attended, and sometimes you get four or five folks to show up. We would like to have an engagement with our community around our school budget and finance. So if they have questions or interest, that's in March.



April, in conjunction with no More Violence Week, is school safety, which is a big issue for a lot of folks and for the school district for sure. We'll have partners from the community that are on that panel as well.


May is a focus on our facilities. It'll be a forum where all of our schools are open for an open house during the first week of May, inviting the community to come in and see the good work that has been done in our schools as a result of their 100 million dollar investment in our public schools. So we're finishing that bond project and we've also had some private dollars that have been allocated and targeted for certain enhancements in our district. And then we've used some of our federal money for COVID to upgrade our facility. So we want to open the doors and celebrate and say thank you to our community, our contractors and folks that helped us with that project.


Anything else you want to add?


Tom: I appreciate the community wanting to be engaged with the school district and give us feedback and participate in the education of our children here in Great Falls.


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