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Local_news
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Sidney school board discusses pros and cons of 4-day school weeks

A discussion on four-day school weeks was heard at the regular meeting of Sidney Public Schools Board of Trustees, held Monday, Oct. 14.

High school principal Brent Sukut presented data from a survey conducted with students (173 responses), community members/parents (538 responses) and certified/classified staff (57 responses).

“In looking at the surveys, what was interesting to me is they actually all came out fairly close,” Sukut said. “I would have thought the student survey would have come out a little bit differently. But they all were right around 63-67 percent in favor of.”

Concerns of a four-day school week varied depending on the group surveyed. Employee concerns included transportation coordination, loss of hours for some employees, length of school year calendar, length of school day and meals for students on Fridays. Community/parent survey concerns added amount of homework, student achievement and child care for children on Fridays.

Sukut said Martin Morales was confident transportation could be coordinated effectively.

“He said there are a number of ways you could take care of that,” Sukut said. “He was not concerned with it in the least bit.”

Pros and cons of four-day school week models are largely anecdotal, but Dr. Tim Tharp from Savage did his doctoral dissertation on the matter in 2014. His research studied standardized test scores of MontCas, which ultimately fell after a the first few years of steady scores. Sukut referenced the study in his discussion with the school board, but Tharp was not in attendance. While Tharp’s research is now five years old, it’s one of the most recent comprehensive data assessments of four-day school weeks.

“I did a population study. I think it has a strength over a lot of other research that was done around the same time,” Tharp said. “Other ones did sample sizes.”

Anecdotally, schools that saw success with the four-day model have strong leadership from administration and a lot of community support. However, over time, performance of students and staff seemed to slip. One answer Tharp proposed was the Hawthorne effect, which is the alteration of behavior by subjects of a study because they are aware they are being studied, but that’s not the only proposed answer for falling performance over a longer period.

“I think there are two reasons,” Tharp said. “I think people start to get complacent and shift back to some previous practices. The second concern I have is that the accumulated days missed of instruction start to add up.”

Montana Legislature has allowed some flexibility with scheduling, as school years are determined by hours instead of days. While hours can be added to days, Tharp said, that doesn’t make up for lost classroom time over the whole year and eventually over a student’s whole school career.

“I think the accumulated amount of days start to make a difference after a number of years,” he said.

During the school board meeting, a point in favor of the new schedule was employee recruitment and retention, which has become an increasing concern at rural schools in Montana and for Sidney as smaller area schools transition to the four-day model. While the four-day model has found varying degrees of success at smaller schools, Tharp said Sidney would be the largest student population to adapt it in the state. That fact was confirmed by Montana Office of Public Instruction Director of Communications Dylan Klapmeier, who said in an email, “Sidney would be by far the largest district.”

Student population as of the school board meeting on Oct. 14 sat at 1,3337. During the 2018-19 school year, 139 schools in Montana operated on a four-day week, according to the Office of Public Instruction.

The model for rural locations has perks for students and parents, like travel for activities on Fridays. Hockey athletes miss almost every Friday during their season. It would also allow parents to schedule appointments on Fridays. Board chairman Ben Thorgersen pointed out most doctors aren’t around on Fridays for appointments in Sidney, which Sukut said answers the argument students come out ill-prepared for the traditional workplace.

“It counters the argument that we are enabling our kids to think four-day weeks aren’t a reality,” Sukut said. “I will tell you, trying to get ahold of people in Sidney on Fridays is not easy.”

Another concern was added homework and weekend work for students.

“If we were to go to something like this, we would need to change our handbooks in terms of how we divvy out homework,” Sukut said. “We cannot make Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays days for just homework and group work.”

Parents of younger students expressed concern about limited childcare options in town.

“The one thing that’s tough, especially when you’re looking at it from the school standpoint, is you want to make sure that you’re very conscious of community needs and things they’re looking for,” Sukut said. “There are a lot of people who came out and said, ‘What are we supposed to do with our kids on Fridays?’ Those ones are kind of tough. We’re a school. We have to be careful at how we look at some of those.”

Superintendent Monte Silk said implementation of such a schedule would require meticulous groundwork with teachers.

“My recommendation is that now they took a lot from each of these perspectives — students, community, the teachers. Particularly the teachers. It’s really important morale-wise,” Silk said. “Ask every question and have the the answer so there’s no surprises if we go to a four-day week for teachers.”

School board trustees agreed to allow Sukut to continue moving forward with research.

“I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer to be honest with you,” Thorgersen said. “It’s going to be an adjustment. It was an adjustment with the 2:10 release on Wednesdays.”

In other news

After updating its tobacco policies, Sidney Public School District received a certificate of excellence from Office of Public Instruction, recognizing them as a tobacco free school district of excellence.

The complete donation of $435,000 was received from the Rob and Melanie Walton-Lowman Foundation for the sports complex.

The transfer of two sophomore students from Fairview to Sidney was approved.

New hires were approved for Emma Stevenson, Central School custodian; Jessica Dockweiler, high school special education aide; Emily Keegan, middle school girls basketball coach; and Raelee Hemline, middle school cheer coach.

A change to bus route three was approved by the board for an additional student on the route.


Submitted by Kristine Gifford  

Community Day of Service

On Saturday, Oct. 12, about 30 volunteers met at the Church of Latter Day Saints and split into three groups for the Community Day of Service. Throughout the day, more volunteers joined, making the number closer to 50. One group cleaned and weeded raised beds at the community gardens (pictured). They also applied oil as a preservative to the raised beds and constructed two compost bins for use at the community gardens.

The second group removed several trees from an elderly community member’s back yard. Three trailer loads of trees and brush were taken to the city for recycling. The third group helped collect fallen branches at city parks including Veterans, Water Tower, Arboretum and Quillings.


State
Health officials identify first Montana death of severe pulmonary disease associated with vaping

Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) officials have identified the state’s first death associated with the national outbreak of e-cigarette use, or vaping.

DPHHS officials say the case involves an individual in their late teens with a history of vaping. State and local health officials have been investigating and officially identified this as a case on Oct. 15. No further information about the individual is being released at this time due to confidentiality.

“My heartfelt sympathies go out to the family who has lost a loved one way too soon,” Gov. Steve Bullock said. “This tragedy truly hits home. I urge Montanans to take the recommendations being issued by public health officials very seriously until more is known about this public health crisis.”

DPHHS continues to work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and local public health as this ongoing national investigation continues.

In Montana, there have been three identified cases of vaping-associated pulmonary illness, including one death. DPHHS is currently reviewing additional cases as part of the national investigation. CDC on October 10, 2019 reported 1,299 lung injury cases associated with the use of e-cigarette, or vaping, products from 49 states, the District of Columbia, and one U.S. territory. The CDC also reported 26 deaths in 21 states last week. These numbers will be updated again on Thursday.

In addition, last week Bullock directed DPHHS to enact emergency rules to temporarily ban flavored e-cigarette products. The rules will be effective on Oct. 22. Fruit and candy-flavored products are marketed to youth in epidemic proportions and the ban seeks to keep the addictive products out of kids’ hands as the CDC continues to investigate the cause of the national outbreak of vaping associated pulmonary illness. Reported cases have included the use of nicotine and THC products.

DPHHS State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman said much is still unknown about what is causing these vaping-associated illnesses and deaths. DPHHS continues to reiterate the same message.

“During this time, we highly recommend that people refrain from any vaping products,” Holzman said.

CDC continues to post new information and recommendations about the outbreak on its website. CDC and FDA have not identified the cause or causes of the lung injuries in these cases, and the only commonality among all cases is that patients report the use of e-cigarette, or vaping, products. This outbreak might have more than one cause, and many different substances and product sources are still under investigation. The specific chemical exposure(s) causing lung injuries associated with e-cigarette product use, or vaping, remains unknown at this time.

DPHHS State Epidemiologist Laura Williamson thanks all those who are cooperating with the investigations that are occurring around the state. Specifically, she said it’s crucial that those who have been identified as having symptoms to save any leftover product so it can be tested.

“The assistance of the public is so important as we work to understand what is happening in order to prevent future illnesses,” Williamson said.

As part of this information-collecting effort, DPHHS will add vaping associated pulmonary illness to the list of reportable diseases and conditions to aid in the epidemiological investigation of the outbreak.

Those involved in the outbreak report symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, and fatigue. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are also common. Symptoms worsen over a period of days or weeks and do not appear to be caused by a pulmonary infection. Anyone who vapes and is experiencing respiratory issues should promptly consult their provider. Healthcare providers treating patients with respiratory illness with no apparent infectious cause and who have a history of e-cigarette use are asked to notify their local health department.

Regardless of the ongoing investigation, health officials state that e-cigarette products should never be used by youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.

Holzman said almost all e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is very addictive. There are many services that are available to help Montanans quit. He urges Montanans to talk to their healthcare provider about help that is available.

For all Montanans, there is the Montana Tobacco Quit Line. This service is for all types of tobacco, including smokeless, cigarettes, and e-cigarettes. The benefits include free Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NPT), reduced-cost prescription medication, free quit coaching, and a free personalized quit plan.

There are also several specialized programs available. The American Indian Commercial Tobacco Quit Line has several benefits. This program is culturally sensitive and distinguishes between commercial and traditional tobacco. Free NRT is also provided.

The My Life, My Quit Youth program is for ages 12-17 who want to quit all forms of tobacco, including vaping. The program provides free coaching through text, chat or phone; confidential enrollment and coaching; coaches specially trained to work with teens and youth; and on-line enrollment and coaching (mylifemyquit.com). Text ‘Start My Quit’ to 1-855-891-9989 or call.

The Quit Now Montana Pregnancy program provides a free personal female quit coach, cash incentives and free NRT if approved by a doctor.

More information is available on the DPHHS website at dphhs.mt.gov.


Local_news
5 things to know the week of Oct. 20

1Sidney area community choir practice starts Sunday, Oct. 20, Church of Latter Day Saints, at 2 p.m., and will be scheduled for the same time each subsequent Sunday. The performance date is Sunday, Dec. 8.

2Red Cross Blood Drive will be held Tuesday, Oct. 22, St. Matthew’s Parish Center, from 12-6 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome, but appointments are recommended. To make an appointment, call the American Red Cross at 406-868-0911 or visit redcrossblood.org.

3Visit The Rush on Thursday, Oct. 24, from 5:30 a.m. — 7:30 p.m., for Coffee for a Cause. For every customer, The Rush will donate $1 to the Cancer Coalition in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

4Also happening Thursday, Oct. 24 is Shop for a Cause, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Merge Fashion + Lifestyle, Meraki Boutique, Thee Beautique and special extended hours at The Rush. Tickets are $20 and are available at Foundation for Community Care. Each Boutique will feature unique drinks and appetizers, as well as sales, specials and items for this special meeting. Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Cancer Coalition.

5Women’s Health Screening will be offered Friday, Oct. 25, Sidney Health Center Clinic entrance, 2-4 p.m. Free clinical breast exam, blood pressure check, take home FIT kit, smoking cessation assistance, health information stations, door prizes and gift certificates.


Local_news
Sidney Chamber of Commerce changes dues structure and other updates from the meeting

Membership dues will be structured in tiers soon, as Sidney Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture discussed in the regular meeting Thursday, Oct. 24. Here are highlights from the meeting:

1. Dues will be categorized as $1,500, investor level; $750, partner level; and $250, supporter level. Bill Vander Weele, executive director of the chamber, said most chambers are moving to a tiered system. The board asked Vander Weele to send out a press release with more information on the new dues, to which he agreed.

2. Chamber-funded alcohol training for servers and sellers of alcohol was discussed. Past president Jeremy Norby said he would like to explore other funding sources for the training. Board member Alli Nelson said she would look into it.

3. Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) visited the chamber board to discuss adding their page to the chamber website instead of having an independent page. Also on topic was a TBID bill from Benner, Averett & Co in the amount of $1,725. TBID was billed for reviewed and reconciled books in 2016 when the chamber still held the books for the committee. TBID requested the bill be reviewed and at least split between the two entities since they had no control of the review and reconciliation. Norby requested the matter be move to the executive board to meet with Benner, Averett & Co. Executive board meetings are closed meetings.

4. The 2020 annual chamber meeting will be Jan. 20 at the fairgrounds Event Center. The theme is roaring 20s.