Superintendent Dustin Gordon shared with the Fairfield school board that the Fairfield Elementary School received the National ESEA Distinguished Schools award.

During the Oct. 12 meeting, Gordon said each state may only name two schools as National ESEA Distinguished Schools per year, so this is an especially prestigious honor. Along with the award comes a $15,000 grant that allows five staff members to attend the national convention. This year’s convention will be held in a virtual format.

The National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators — formerly the National Title I Association—has been selecting examples of superior, federally funded school programs for national recognition through the National ESEA Distinguished Schools program since 1996. These schools demonstrate a wide array of strengths, including team approaches to teaching and learning, focused professional development opportunities for staff, individualized programs for student success and strong partnerships between the school, parents and the community.

What makes National ESEA Distinguished Schools’ stories especially powerful according to the group’s website are the documented student achievement gains that have resulted from collaborative and targeted efforts and innovations.

Principal Courtney Bake said this is a big deal. “It shows how hard the district works to utilize the title and special education funding, how the teachers and staff are creative in best serving the kiddos of the district,” Bake said. “It is awesome that the staff is recognized for all their hard work.”

Gordon informed the board he plans to provide more detailed updates of the status of the school and athletics associated with coronavirus at board meetings. He sees this as a time for the administration to share how they are handling situations and to hear concerns from the trustees.

Everyone at the school, in collaboration with the county health department, is working hard to keep the students in school, the athletic teams competing and the facility operating effectively, Gordon said. “Every day seems to bring a new challenge, but we have thus far effectively navigated most of the difficulties that have come with opening and in-person learning, which has been our primary goal,” Gordon said.

“The further into the fall, the number of COVID cases continues to rise in Montana, including in Teton County,” Gordon said. He spoke of schools in the state and region that have temporarily gone to distance learning due to COVID cases. “Because of this, we feel we have to do everything we can to minimize a COVID exposure within the school,” he said.

Gordon outlined how the administration is working with families when traveling out-of-state. “We deal with situations as they arise, handling them on a case-by-case basis. One size doesn’t fit all,” he said. “It is a slippery slope, with no clear guidelines to determine the risk factor. I don’t know if we are always right, but I’m going to err on the side of caution,” Gordon said. “I always keep at the forefront the wellbeing and safety of 350 students and staff.”

Board members encouraged Gordon to communicate any travel restrictions, especially with the holiday season approaching. They all agreed being as consistent as possible is also important.

Gordon assured the board that when students are at home for an extended time for whatever reason, the district will work closely with them to maintain their education.

A board member questioned Gordon: in the light of how hard the district is working to minimize exposure in smaller cohorts, has the district been in contact with groups outside the school such as youth groups?

Gordon said he was approached by one youth leader and appreciated the chance to collaborate with them. He added it can be frustrating, but they don’t have jurisdiction.

Two district teachers attending the meeting shared their appreciation for the hard work of the administration and board in making tough choices that are keeping everyone safe.

Gordon informed the board they continue to work on plans in case the district would go to distance learning. The Conrad School District shared tips from when they elected to go fully remote for two weeks with area administrators at the North Central Montana Association of School Superintendents meeting. Collaboration between districts in the region has been invaluable this year, he said.

Gordon and Bake outlined how parent-teacher conferences will be structured during a PIR half-day on Oct. 30. “Given health concerns, conferences will look a little different this year,” Gordon said. “They will be held virtually.” Teachers will contact those parents they wish to visit with, and any parent not contacted wanting to have a one-on-one time with a teacher should contact their student’s teacher or the school district.

Della Lonner, adviser for FHS Spanish and Recycling clubs, presented a brief outline of both groups at the meeting. She highlighted their activities and student involvement. Lonner informed the board the trip planned for 2021 will be her last as adviser, as she plans to spend more time in the summer with her growing children.

Other items before the board:

•Hired Jen Brown as an adult education instructor and Monica Keller to help this year in the kitchen and on the custodial staff.

•Agreed to the sale of obsolete/surplus equipment, a counter from the office area.

•Heard the first reading of policies for Title IX, school wellness and fingerprint background handling.

•Gordon informed the board the free meal program for students through the CARES Act has been extended from the end of December to the end of the school year. He said this will be a big savings for many families.