Less than two weeks after starting his new job as superintendent of Billings Public Schools, Greg Upham has already met with local economic development and business leaders.
“Morale is very high” in the district, Upham told The Gazette editorial board during a visit Tuesday. “The business community is very involved.”
He praised the leadership of Terry Bouck, who retired on June 30 after five years as Billings superintendent. Upham said he knew Billings schools were working well before he submitted his job application because he had researched the district. The 2013 election that approved the $122 million K-8 bond issue had a positive effect statewide, he said. Other districts and education supporters saw that it is possible to rally community support for big school needs.
Upham moved to Billings last month from Helena where he was assistant superintendent after stints as a high school principal and technical education teacher. A member of the Blackfeet Tribe, Upham grew up in Great Falls and started his teaching career in Browning.
With his background in career and technical education, Upham is excited about Billings’ efforts to better prepare students for what they need to do after high school graduation.
“We’ve always prepared kids for college and career; now they can get career education in high school,” he said.
Billings schools rapidly expanded dual-credit offerings over the past few years, so more students are earning college credits while they complete their high school education, giving them a head start on associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees.
The district has increased the number of Advanced Placement credits students have earned, which also can shorten time to a college degree while reducing costs.
In Helena, Upham worked on a strategy to improve ACT scores and to establish professional learning communities for all teachers. Billings launched its professional learning communities last year.
The Career Center has been the focal point of much career and technical education advancement. Principal Scott Anderson and the district’s CTE director, Lew Anderson, are leading innovation that will connect students throughout the district to career pathways.
In Helena, another of Upham’s assignments was to oversee contracts for construction of new elementary schools approved by voters. He used that opportunity to set up a pre-apprenticeship program that is expected to put high school students on school construction job sites starting this fall.
The pre-apprenticeship plan is to “pay high school students a little and get them on the job site during the school day,” he said. “They will be earning while they’re learning.”
Billings also needs skilled craftsmen and women for construction trades. Career Center students have built a house every academic year for decades in partnership with the Billings Home Builders Association. There should be opportunities to expand that successful relationship.
Upham’s first regular school board meeting as Billings superintendent is set for 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Lincoln Education Center board room.
Back in May, just days after trustees asked him to work for Billings, Upham signed a two-year contract. We are optimistic that this will be a great two years for our students and community. Upham indicated during his job interview that he hopes to stay in Billings for many years; we share that hope.