After the most difficult and disruptive school year in state history due to the COVID 19 pandemic, MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson appeared on Tuesday’s Talk Back show and spoke of some of the lessons learned last school year that will be utilized this fall.

“When we have teachers out of the classroom, we have to use substitute teachers and for years and years substitute teachers have gone from one building to the next building and they might be in five different schools during one week,” said Watson. “But this year because of COVID, we went to permanent subs, which are basically substitute teachers that stay in one building for the whole week. It costs a little bit more money to do that because you have to guarantee that they'll have five days of work. But on the flip side, they start to build relationships with the kids. The kids know who they are. They see them as another staff member.”

Watson also said the new school year hours will give high school students a little extra sleep.

“We did move our high school start time back to 8:55 a.m. where that closer to 7:50 a.m.  or eight o'clock in previous year,” he said. “So we believe that just that little bit of extra time is really going to help and I think it's a huge benefit. So it's something we're going to try to hold on to into the future.”

As for the issue of face coverings for students next school year, Watson said the district is still waiting for federal health guidance.

“Masks have not been decided yet,” he said. “We're kind of holding out for guidance from the CDC, specifically around schools. I know the CDC has released more general guidance around vaccinated people in masks but they are set to release some specific school based guidance in the coming weeks. So we'll review that before we make any decisions around face coverings.”

Regarding controversial subjects being taught in Missoula public schools, Watson said the administration will abide by the OPI, but will not shy away from discussing difficult subjects.

“It's never going to be our job to alienate a certain group of kids because of what they believe or because of their race or anything like that,” he said. “So our job is to really welcome kids and make sure they feel comfortable in our classrooms. But having said that, we have to talk about some controversial topics. That's part of not only our curriculum, but it's also part of the state standards. With regards to social studies and in English, you see some controversial topics there as well. And that's not something we're going to shy away from. We need to talk about those things.”

Watson took over for Mark Thane as superintendent and in his first full year had to deal with the COVID pandemic.


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