If you are looking for inspiration this holiday season, look no further than the faculty, staff and especially the students in the Hays-Lodge Pole School District.
The district is one of the poorest in the state. Tucked away on the far corner of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, it is isolated, and it appears that it is often out of sight, out of mind to Helena. Students usually perform poorly on standardized tests. It has a high dropout rate. It has a hard time attracting teachers.
One would hope that given the students’ tough circumstances, the district would be first to be in line for special programs, extra attention and quality leadership to meet the challenges and help students outperform their peers at other schools.
Adults should be working hard to help provide quality education so students can overcome the massive obstacles they face. They need the best the school can offer because they will need the best possible education if they are to be successful. The cure to cancer may be waiting to be thought of by the brains of the students attending the school, but they need strong, firm, loving adults who can point them in the right direction.
Sadly, at least some of the adults in their lives have failed the students miserably.
The district’s administration is in tumult.
If you were to walk into the school today and ask to see the person in charge, you would get a shrug of the shoulders.
School Board President John Doney took charge in May and is accused by many of being a dictator. He has set up an office in the school. But he was suspended Monday because he is awaiting trial on seven misdemeanor misconduct charges for his alleged mishandling of school operations.
There is no superintendent, and from all we can tell, there is no effort to find one.
The principal is certified for grades 5-12. The earlier grades have no principal.
Blaine County School Superintendent Lisa Stroh apparently has limited authority over the school, but the last time she visited the school, Doney called tribal police to remove her.
Teachers say they are intimidated by Doney.
Through all of this, teachers come to school every day to teach. Staffers come and prepare lunches for students. do the paperwork and clean the schools.
And students, whose one big hope in their lives is to get a quality education so they can lift themselves up by their bootstraps, are coming to school every day to get the most out of it that they can.
Hays-Lodge Pole students have two strikes going up against them in the best of times. Now they have to face this adult-imposed bedlam in their lives.
Many don’t have the option of going to Harlem and Dodson like some of their schoolmates have done. They continue to come to Hays-Lodge Pole every day, hoping that adults will live up to their expectations.
The good news is that many on the Fort Belknap reservation are sickened by the goings on at H-LP. Against the odds, they are fighting for students over adults’ egos. In time, they will prevail.
In the meantime, the students who come to school each day to prepare for their future, and those who really are supporting them, are our inspiration for the holiday season.