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On the Edge of Some Really Good Things

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Division "best thing that ever happened to us" for schools in Priest River

Where public school matters in Bonner County are concerned this summer, the West Bonner County School District No. 83, headquartered in Priest River, stands as a little oasis of peace and tranquility in a sea of tumult.

To most west county residents, even those who were skeptical in the beginning, district division has proved to be "the best thing that ever happened to us." The new district was fortunate as well in the choice of Dr. Joe Malletta as its first superintendent.

Malletta, a problem solver who had previously retired as superintendent from both the Whitefish and Bigfork, Montana, school districts, hit the deck running and has never allowed anyone to look back since. Under his leadership, District 83 has made great strides forward, and voters have responded by authorizing two 2-year supplemental M&O levies to help with various funding concerns. State budget cuts and  holdbacks have forced the superintendent, business manager and school board to wrestle continuously with finances, but District 83 has yet to flounder or overspend its budget.

One of Malletta's first accomplishments was to convince the trustees and community to buy into the Effective Schools school improvement program. The state requires every district to have an SIP, but there are a number from which a selection can be made. With the groundwork for Effective Schools having now been laid, "the district is on the edge of doing some really good things," Malletta said.

Three accomplishments make that possible. "One, our assessment system (the MAP testing program) is all in place. We are ahead of the curve in the state. We are one of the first districts in the state to test the individual growth of students for comparison purposes."

MAP tests are computer-generated tests that students take in the fall and again in the spring to test individual growth in math, reading and language arts. Results are immediate and allow students to see and compare the results with their previous scores, and with the scores of their classmates. According to Malletta, "It has become a very motivating thing. The kids have really bought into that, and so have the teachers."

This past spring Priest River Elementary students even managed to beat the state and national average on a couple of the sub-sections of the tests, he said. "That was a first for West Bonner County." On the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, West Bonner students have previously scored in the fourth stanine, putting them below the state and national average.

Too, District 83 has also been hard at work implementing a coordinated K-12 curriculum. Malletta sees that as the second component of a good school. A coordinated curriculum builds each year on what has been taught before and lets each teacher know exactly what it is he or she is responsible for teaching. This year, curriculum is in place for social studies and technology. "We've had pieces and parts in place before," Malletta noted, "but now we've got the whole package. I think we're all excited about that." In the past 3 years, District 83 has spent $200,000 on materials for social studies, math, writing, biology, driver's education, spelling and reading. This year the district will be implementing an all-new, integrated Special Services program as well.

The third component of an Effective School is teacher training. "We've been working on that now for a couple of years, and we're making good and steady progress."

The district has instituted a teacher support program for all new teachers whereby an experienced teacher is assigned as a mentor to work helping and advising with everything from writing lesson plans to working on coping strategies. "Consistency is what the district needs now," Malletta finished, "in personnel, approaches, the way we look at data so that we use it consistently and appropriately. Then we can move up another level and maintain."

Malletta gives his board credit for much the district has achieved. "The board has always been willing to put in a lot of time studying materials, keeping up the pace," he noted. "They've been supportive and willing to grow."

Except for Bill Boyd, who resigned for health reasons and was replaced by Peggy Smith, the original school board is still in place. In addition to Smith, board members are Leonard Parenteau (chairman), Eric Eldenburg, Ken Corning and Vern Melvin. Both Melvin and Parenteau, because of their background in education, have been a great asset to the board, Malletta added. He said of Parenteau, "I've never seen a man who gives so much time to individual kids."

Malletta expects to remain with District 83 until his contract expires in two more years and then retire - again.

"I've already retired twice," he acknowledged, though, with a laugh. Whatever the future holds for Joe Malletta, it looks bright indeed for District 83. The new school year begins on Sept. 3. It promises to be another good one. 

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Marylyn Cork

Tagged as:

education, deconsolidation, Priest River, West Bonner County School District, Joe Malletta

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