(Sarah Pridgeon photo) Pam Stugelmeyer addresses trustees during Monday’s school district meeting.
By Sarah Pridgeon
Citizens with ties to the Bear Lodge High School spoke up on Monday night in respectful but passionate support of the county’s alternative school and its role in the community. They asked the Crook County School District Board of Trustees to reconsider its decision to move the facility wholesale into the Hulett School.
In response, Chairman Brian Marchant thanked them for attending the meeting and assured the group that the board has no intention whatsoever of doing harm to the kids at BHLS, but explained there are some decisions regarding budget cuts that the board has no choice but to make.
The group of concerned citizens shared their experiences of the alternative school, which traditionally serves “at risk” students from all Crook County communities, and their reasons to worry about moving it. Pam Stugelmeyer spoke as the parent of an alumnus of the school and asked the board to reconsider.
“Just because it’s a done deal doesn’t mean it’s a good deal,” she said, expressing that she believes moving the school will be harmful not only to the kids and staff of BLHS, but also to the community and businesses of Sundance.
Some of the kids who attend BLHS play sports in Sundance, she continued, and others have jobs after school. The current building is also close to mental health and the probation office thanks to its central location.
It’s hard to see a brand new school and football field in town and be told another school is going to be taken away, she continued. Wanting to bring a solution as well as a problem, she suggested that returning to the original plan of moving BLHS into the new Central Office would be more palatable.
Theresa Nelson also spoke as the mother of two BLHS students. She questioned why there had been no parent involvement in the decision to move the school to Hulett and asked why it seemed like the district was “actively trying to hide it”.
The school currently has five students, Nelson told the board. Two have said they will drop out if the school moves and two are soon to graduate, leaving just one student; if that final student leaves, she said, BLHS will lose its accreditation.
“In my eyes, it feels like you guys are sentencing it to death,” she said.
Nelson stated that she had looked through the warrants the board was planning to sign and had found a lot that “could be considered wasteful”. For example, she said, perhaps the district could spend less on sports and on its new board room, which she suggested won’t be used much, and redirect that money to BLHS.
Amanda Stugelmeyer shared her story as a graduate of BLHS, telling the board that she had trouble learning from text books and fell behind because of two surgeries, which made her an “at risk” student. Now, thanks to BLHS, she told the board she has a head start in her career and feels successful.
Stugelmeyer stated that she knows there is a certain stereotype of BLHS students, but that it has little basis in truth. It’s also not the “easy way out”, she said – students are asked to do a lot of research for their projects and also learn valuable life skills, such as how to balance a check book or fix a faucet.
Fellow graduate Christine Rise also addressed the board, telling them that she does not know where she would be without the help of BLHS.
“This school saved my life,” she said, stating that she owes the school a great deal.
Dave Jagemann spoke from his experience as a substitute teacher at BLHS, telling the board that, “It is a place I love to sub because it is different.” He suggested that moving the school to Hulett is almost setting it up for failure because doing so removes the separation from the main student body that is so important to its success.
Steve Christy of the Church of Good Shepherd told the board that the church has been actively involved with BLHS for about a decade, starting with financial support for the greenhouse and evolving into the sharing of skills with the students and also a breakfast program. This valuable relationship will be lost if the school moves, he said.
Michele Pridgeon, para at BLHS, spoke of her experiences, telling the board that there is something very special about the school and the teamwork with which the staff works to get the students graduated. She is among the three staff members who will be losing their jobs, she said.
“I’m ok with that, I’ll take one for the team,” she said, asking the board to please keep the rest of that team together.
After Marchant responded to the visitors, audience member Jim Pridgeon asked him to confirm whether or not the decision to move the school still stands. Marchant responded that the vote was taken at the last meeting of the board and does indeed still stand.
Marchant also invited anyone who has questions about the transition to make an appointment with Superintendent Mark Broderson, who will be happy to visit with them.
Representative Tyler Lindholm also attended the meeting to update the board on the outcome of the Legislative Session and confirm that the expected cuts that led to the decision to move BLHS will indeed be happening. He stated that House Bill 239 ultimately was passed with $34 million in cuts, which will translate to a $400,000 decrease in school funding for Crook County in the 2017-18 biennium.