Amid optimism for the school year ahead, the “imperfect student” took center stage during School District 2 opening ceremonies held Tuesday for nearly 2,000 teachers and staff.
District officials, students and guest speakers, including Lt. Gov. Angela McLean and ExxonMobil public affairs manager Dan Carter, offered words of encouragement to the SD2 staff who filled the Alberta Bair Theater.
School resumes Wednesday for the more than 16,000 SD2 students and 1,200 teachers, 83 of them new.
The district is benefiting from funding secured recently for school construction, technology upgrades and STEM curricula, Superintendent Terry Bouck said in his remarks. Meanwhile, efforts to develop a strategic plan for the district and redraw elementary school boundaries are just getting underway.
“We’ve had an incredible amount of momentum, and we’re going to keep that going this year,” he said.
Bouck commended teachers for supporting all students, regardless of their family situation or academic ability, and called upon the district to focus on an “inclusive approach” to education.
Describing poverty as a community problem, Bouck said it’s one factor that contributes to the challenges the district faces in improving graduation and attendance rates.
“Some (students) work to support their families,” Bouck said. “Some are homeless. Some don’t have enough food.”
The graduation rate for SD2 students climbed to 82.5 percent in 2013, up almost five points from 2011.
Teachers’ attention to students who face difficulties outside the classroom and who struggle to find their spot inside it is what makes the difference, student speakers said.
Mariah Welch, a student at Senior High School, said teachers “make or break public education" despite the constraints put on them, by deciding to reach out to those students who struggle.
She challenged teachers to support the football player who has trouble with vocabulary, acknowledge the transgender student who doesn’t have a lab partner and help the girl in the back of math class who can’t solve a problem.
“Which is usually me,” Welch added.
“I know it’s hard to teach people like me,” said Billings West High School student body president Adam Copeland, admitting that he isn’t an ideal student. “All the imperfect kids, we love teachers because we need boundaries and we need discipline.”
Teacher relationships with students take many forms, and they can transform the student’s life, speakers said.
“Frankly, without relationships, you have nothing,” Bouck said.
Carter, of ExxonMobil, spoke of teachers inspiring high school freshmen as they read Homer’s "The Odyssey." Appearing via Skype, McLean, a former teacher, said she understands that the relationship extends beyond the classroom — like buying coats for needy students, or reporting instances of child abuse.
“You go make the call that no one in that child’s life has ever had the courage to make,” McLean said.
Students from the all-high school choir sang for the audience, followed by a performance by the Riverside Middle School jazz band.
Between songs, members of the jazz band paused to take a “selfie” with the crowd of teachers in the background.
Emcee and SD2 board chair Allen Halter added a humorous touch, donning football jerseys from all three high schools and joking that Billings Education Association president Scott McCulloch had been practicing his twerking over the summer.
The school board, Halter said, is committed to allowing “teachers to be teachers and administrators to be administrators.”
“We are 100 percent behind you guys. We want you to know that,” he said.