The Choteau school board on Sept. 10 reviewed and approved policy changes, heard about a big upswing in students eating breakfast and lunch at school and hired several new employees.

Chuck Gameon, Choteau superintendent and K-6 principal, said enrollment in early September is sitting at 349 students, including 182 students in elementary school (up from last fall), 55 junior high students (also up from last fall), and 112 high school students (down from last year).

Gameon said Choteau graduated a senior class with 33 students last May and enrolled a 25-student freshman class this fall.

He said school is off to a good start and one of the positive notes is the participation in the school’s hot breakfast and lunch program. Students are responding positively to changes in the program, put into place by new head and assistant cooks, Cathy Campbell and Cheryl Gertge, as they take advantage of the beef-to-school program Campbell helped establish last year.

Area ranchers are donating beef, bison and pork to the school lunch program, and Campbell and Gertge are using that locally sourced meat to literally “beef up” the school cafeteria offerings.

“It’s been a huge success so far,” Gameon said of the school lunch program, adding that about 240 to 280 students have been eating lunch, a jump of 50 to 70 a day more than last year.

On hamburger day, he said, 300 out of 349 total students ate lunch at the cafeteria. “Word is traveling through kids and parents,” he said.

The sharp drop off in student traffic to the food counter at the Main Street Express convenience store has been noted by the staff there, Gameon said.

Last school year, the board held several work sessions with staff from the Montana School Boards Association to review all of the board’s policies for compliance with current law.

At their September board meeting, board members began making those policy changes, which addressed issues like conflict of interest and resignations of board members, school calendar and school day, digital classes, how students might test out of required classes, parent and family engagement, grading for dual-credit classes, vaping devices, service animals and other topics.

The board did not approve a new policy for distance learning classes. Gameon and 7-12 Principal Wendi Hammond recommended studying this policy further as it would allow students to take online classes even when those same classes are offered by teachers in the high school.

Hammond said she endorses the change because it would give her more flexibility to work with students to make sure their unique needs are being met.

Gameon said he would like to have the district attendance committee and administration work on alternate language for this policy.

In other business, the board:

•Said the Choteau Education Association has submitted in writing its intent to negotiate for changes in the master teaching contract this coming spring.

•Approved a request for Choteau FFA members Amber Johnson, Wilbur Bechtold, Hope Linquist, Tori Yeager and Lila Bradley to attend the national FFA convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. CHS graduate Carolyn Roeder, a freshman at Montana State University, will also accompany the team along with FFA adviser and chaperone Milford Wearley. The team of Johnson, Linquist, Bradley and Roeder will compete in the food science and technology competition at the convention.

•Accepted the resignations of Dan Yeager and Chad Peebles as assistant junior high football coaches and approved hiring Clint Buck for that position. Buck will work with the junior high head coach Dustin Lobdell. Yeager and Peebles are both assistant high school football coaches. Buck will earn a stipend of $854.

•Hired Arthur Tomlinson as the new elementary school custodian, pending passing a background check. Gameon said Tomlinson moved his family to Choteau from Chinook so their children could attend Choteau Public Schools. His hourly wage will start at $11 with benefits.

•Approved extracurricular volunteers Faith Shepherd with the cheer program; and Susie Ewinger and Mona VanDeRiet with the speech and drama program, all pending passing a background check.

•Added Janie Zwerneman and Lindsay Walter to the substitute teacher list, pending passing background checks.

•Transferred language arts teacher Amanda Leichtnam from admissions ticket taker to concessions ticket taker. She will earn an hourly wage of $11.

•Approved the 2019-20 athletic handbook changes, including one that defines vaping products as banned because of their nicotine content; and another that changes who students are allowed to ride home with after sporting or other extracurricular events.

•Renewed participating in the state’s surplus property program for another three years.

The board held a special meeting on Sept. 13 to approve hiring Sherrel Passmore as a new high school special education aide at a starting wage of $11 per hour with benefits. Passmore, who worked professionally as a nurse, is related to board member Marion Passmore, who is her daughter-in-law. Because of this, the whole board had to be present to hire Sherrel. Marion Passmore abstained from voting.