EAST HELENA – East Helena School District leaders are getting ready to start registering the first freshmen for their new high school.
Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer said the district is currently finalizing registration materials. They plan to start handing them out to eighth-grade students by the middle of next week.
Whitmoyer said they expect to offer multiple levels of math classes, in addition to honors classes in subjects like English, history and science.
“We already know that we have to reach out to meet every kid’s need as best as we humanly can,” he said.
Leaders are also considering a variety of electives for the first year, which could include languages, music, art, business, culinary arts and possibly agriculture.
“We’re going to try our best to create every opportunity we can,” Whitmoyer said.
In May 2018, voters approved a $29.5 million bond issue to build a high school in the East Helena School District. That new building was scheduled to open for the 2020 school year. But district leaders decided several months later that they could start offering high school classes a year earlier by holding them in unused classrooms at East Valley Middle School.
Current eighth-graders at EVMS will have the option to go to high school in the Helena School District, though Whitmoyer said their families may have to pay tuition in those cases. He said teachers have informally talked to their eighth-grade students about whether they will attend the new East Helena High School. They estimate about 75 percent are committed to EHHS, while the rest are undecided or planning to go to Helena. That means administrators are planning for at least 100 students in the incoming freshman class.
“We don’t want to overstaff, but at the same time we don’t want to understaff this high school,” said Whitmoyer.
District leaders are looking to hire around nine full-time staff, including teachers and a counselor. They have already posted applications for high school teachers and coaches. They may also bring in part-time employees.
Whitmoyer said some of the teachers will be new hires, but they are also considering moving some current middle school teachers into the high school.
“We’ve created such a culture in East Helena that we don’t want to have that change as we create a high school,” he said. “We want the culture that this community has come to trust, and come to like, to continue into the high school.”
Dan Rispens, the principal of EVMS, will also oversee the high school for at least the first year. Whitmoyer said they will hire a vice-principal for the high school, who might eventually become the principal as the school develops.
While the high school will be initially housed at EVMS, Whitmoyer said they will treat it as a separate school – with its new East Helena High School name and Vigilante mascot.
“There’ll be some familiarity, but what we’re hoping to do is create a lot of unfamiliarity with the kids as well,” he said. “We want this to be a new experience for them. We need these kids to help us build a culture in our school system, and build traditions.”
He said they are already looking at the possibility of holding homecoming festivities this fall.
The district is planning to break ground on the high school building in March. It will be located just off Valley Drive, on Dartman Field north of the Lewis and Clark Search and Rescue building. Whitmoyer said they are still confident it will be ready to open by fall 2020.
Whitmoyer said there is a lot of work left to do to get ready to launch the high school.
“Mr. Rispens and I have been on the phone half a dozen times today, comparing notes, trying to make sure that every last detail is exactly right for kids,” he said.