Thompson Falls Public Schools is a Class “B” school district located on the Clark Fork River between Hope and Paradise on Highway 200, midpoint between Kalispell, Missoula, and Spokane, Washington. Two decades ago, the timber industry was thriving and poverty was minimal. Today, the timber industry is almost gone and the number of students on free and reduced hot lunches has escalated from about 30% in 1994, to 70% in 2010. Student enrollment in 1997-98 was 690 compared to about 480 in 2010 (loss of 218 students). This is a decrease of 32% in student population.
There is a District Leadership Team that is made up of teachers, community members, and administrators that meet at a regular basis during the school year. This team determines the staff development program, use of PIR and Teacher Development Days, and contributes to district, building, and classroom goals. There is an annual calendar committee made up of one administrator and representatives from both the classified and certified staff in each school building that develops the annual school calendar that is presented and approved by the Board of Trustees.
Since Thompson Falls Public Schools is a small school district, parent involvement is easy to obtain each year. Parent teacher conferences exceed ninety percent for grades K-8 and almost seventy percent at the high school in 2009. Each building also has an open house during the evening at a different time of the year that best meets the needs of their students and staff. Parent volunteers are quite common in the elementary classrooms with foster grand-parents being utilized at all three building levels.
Thompson Falls Public Schools has three administrators plus a supervising teacher in the junior high, forty-seven teachers, housed on two campuses, one mile apart. With very little turnover in staff other than retirements, communication between staff within and between buildings is natural and easy to accomplish. We are all Bluehawks.
For several years now, the school calendar has 174 student instructional days. This allows for six teacher development plus seven PIR days. Since the adoption of this 174 instructional day calendar, the quality and quantity of staff development have improved, one hundred percent. Because of more time to bring all staff together at the high school for training and curriculum work, teachers can meet together in teams, K-12, improving the alignment process (what is written, what is taught, what is assessed).
This school district has excellent teachers who have high expectations that reflect a high quality curriculum. This has occurred because of several factors: 1.) reputation of a good school; 2.) successful athletic and academic programs; 3.) high morale of staff; 4.) little turnover of staff; 5.) excellent staff development program; 6.) mentoring program for new and tenured teaches; 7.) location and beauty of Thompson Falls; 8.) conservative values of community; and 9.) professionalism of school board, administration, and teaching and support staff.
The rigor of the school’s curriculum is most evident when visiting with new students who enter the school district. It is rare to find one student or parent who states that this school is easier than the school that they left to come to Thompson Falls. More typically, the statement is “This school is ahead of our previous schools or you require more work here that the school that we left.” With recent graduates from Yale, Gonzaga, West Point, and other universities outside Montana, our graduates do quite well. Our Science Envirothon Team has won two out of the previous five state competitions with high finishes in the other years. High finishes in Science Olympiad competition with a State Championship in 2009 occur as well.
Thompson Falls Public Schools has created a superior learning environment for its students. For its student population, the district provides these support services:
K-8 counselor who also has a psychologist’s degree; HS counselor; three therapists with masters degree and each one has one assistant, they work in grades K-4, 5-8, and HS, all funded through federal dollars - 21st Century grant that provides after-school and summer school activities/tutoring -
Summer school at both the elementary and high school levels for any student -
Alternative Learning Center at the high school for those students who need either an alternative program and/or replacement classes, or who enroll late in the school year. The ALC can also be used for those students with discipline problems and the ALC is appropriate for them. The ALC operates during the regular school hours, from 4:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. each day, and for one month in the summer. -
Title 1 program, K-12, both within and outside the regular classroom
Over 25% of the high school student-body each year are non-resident students, with the majority of these students coming from outside Montana. These students have been unsuccessful in other school district and live in local therapeutic group homes. Over 90% of these students graduate from our high school.
True leadership in any district begins with the Board of Trustees. Thompson Falls Public Schools has a superb board that understands their role and acts in a professional manner. Having received many Golden Gavel Awards by the Montana School Boards Association is just one indication that they believe in school board staff development. Their attendance as a team at the annual MCEL meeting each year is a high priority even if it means a trip across the state to Billings, 900 miles round trip. Several times in the past, the board has MTSBA staff come to Thompson Falls and provide important information to them during an evening inservice meeting.
The school board supports district staff and helps set policy and procedures that provides the environment needed to create a learning environment. The board does not micromanage the district and will allow the administration the opportunity to carryout the district policies and goals that the board believes are for the betterment of the students.
A final evidence of the success of the leadership of the district was a parent survey that was completed in November, 2009. The survey form was given to all parents during parent-teacher conferences, rating the district. The parents were quite pleased in that they strongly agreed that the district provided a good education for their children and a safe and orderly environment. The parents did not rate any school or the district in a negative manner.