The Whitehall Ledger - Serving Southern Jefferson County in the Great State of Montana

By Jack H. Smith
Whitehall Ledger 

School District receives MCLSDP grant


Whitehall Schools Photo

There was some amazing recent news for the Whitehall School District.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction announced the local district was a Montana Comprehensive Literacy State Development Project (MCLSDP) grant recipient.

According to Whitehall Superintendent Hannah Nieskens, 129 school districts in the state were eligible to apply for the competitive grant.

"Whitehall School District was eligible to apply because the district serves a high percentage of high needs students as identified by 50% or more student Free and Reduced Meal status. The MCLSDP grant will distribute $45 million over five years to the approximately 30 districts that received the grant. Whitehall School District will receive about $1.5 million dollars ($300,000 per year) over five years," Nieskens said.

In October of 2019, Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen announced that Montana had received a five-year, $50 million Striving Readers Comprehensive State Development Program literacy grant through the U.S. Department of Education. The Montana Comprehensive Literacy State Development Project (MCLSDP) awards competitive subgrants to eligible districts to advance literacy skills using evidence-based practices, strategies, and interventions for all children, preschool to grade 12, with an emphasis on disadvantaged children.

"As a fifth-grade teacher for 23 years, I know how critical it is for students to have reading skills to support successful academic transitions into middle and high school," Arntzen said. "This new grant will allow the Office of Public Instruction to continue our positive work with local schools to ensure that all Montana students have opportunities to succeed."

According to Nieskens, the MCLSDP grant outcome expectations are to increase the percentage of participating four-year-old children who achieve significant gains in oral language skills and to increase the percentage of participating fifth-grade, eighth-grade, and high school students who meet or exceed proficiency on the state reading/language arts assessments (Smarter Balanced, ACT).

Nieskens praised staff members for their work on the application process she described as extremely rigorous.

Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen

"Applicants were expected to submit a 40-page application which detailed district goals, expected use of funds, and anticipated outcomes. The entire instructional staff was willing to sign on and support the grant application; their willingness to back the vision of the administration was remarkable and appreciated. School principals, Melissa Robbins and Kurtis Koenig, spent countless hours working on the application this spring with the assistance of several teachers, including Kristen Wirth, Britta Oliverson, and Holly Harper. Their hard work was instrumental in the district being awarded this grant. I am grateful to the principals for agreeing to take on the challenge of grant writing because the benefits for the district will be great," Nieskens said.

The Whitehall grant money will help pay for staffing for a future preschool program, allow the district to purchase the best instructional programs and interventions for all levels PK-12, and provide high-quality professional development for staff.

"One of the best features of this grant is its focus on developing the skill set of our instructional staff, so they can better meet the needs of our students. We already have excellent paraprofessionals, teachers, and principals in Whitehall, but these grant-funded training and professional development opportunities will allow them to attain new professional heights," she said.


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