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Welter reflects on six years at LMS

| June 2, 2004 12:00 AM

By Paul Boring, Western News Reporter

When Principal Connie Welter finishes her tenure at Libby Middle School at the end of June, she will bid adieu to what she calls the best six years of her career.

Welter chose to retire with misgivings, forced to weigh familial priorities against leaving behind the staff and children she has grown to love.

³There¹s only one thing in the world that I love more than these kids in this school, and that¹s my family,² she said.

With parents in Helena, a daughter preparing to wed, and another daughter readying for motherhood, Welter will now have time to visit her family scattered across the country.

³I¹m going to be a grandma, a mother of the bride, and a doting daughter,² she said.

Libby has become home for the principal and her husband, Frank. The couple will remain in the area and stay active within the community.

³One of our plans is to sit on the river and watch it go by,² she said. ³My husband is board chair of the CHC and I¹m on the hospital board. I¹m going to miss this job and the people so much, but I¹ll still be involved.²

Welter has watched the middle school evolve in the last six years. Technology has altered the curriculum markedly and created more educational opportunities for students.

³When I came here, we had one computer lab, which was a mishmash of computers,² she said. ³Through grants, donations, and incredibly hard work by Melody Rohrer and a lot of changes in our objectives, we now have two computer labs and every kid in the school takes technology for at least one quarter a year.²

Eighth-grade students leaving the middle school are now equipped with technological knowledge that will serve them well in their respective futures.

³I don¹t think there¹s a child in the school that leaves the eighth grade unable to put a PowerPoint presentation together,² she said.

Each teacher has a computer at their desk, the Internet greatly facilitating communication between instructors, students, and parents. Remedial math and reading are now computer-based, the latter program also web-based.

³Teachers are much more computer literate now,² she said. ³It¹s been fun watching all of that evolve.²

Coming into the job six years ago, Welter immediately went to work increasing parental involvement and creating a warm and welcoming environment for students and visitors to the school.

³I got a sense that a lot of parents felt that their kids did not want them at the school,² she said. ³That¹s been a big push that we¹ve made. We¹ve had a small, but very strong parent advisory group that actively recruits other parents. Now there are parents in this school constantly and I think they really enjoy themselves and feel welcome.²

Moving the fifth-graders to the middle school was a difficult transition, but a change that Welter said has ultimately helped the school. Parents who were initially skeptical of the move have warmed considerably since the shift.

³That¹s been exciting and it has been fun having the fifth graders here,² she said. ³It really changed the whole feel of the building. It¹s much younger now, which I think is really nice. And we got a great batch of teachers along with that move.²

Welter said that the loss of the team teaching structure at the school was one of the most tragic casualties caused by declining enrollment and budget shortfalls in the district.

³That was sad, but my hope is that it¹s not forgotten. Once the district enrollment becomes stabilized again, teaming is one of the most important structures that needs to be added back. It is the most effective way to teach middle school students,² she said.

With the stringent federally mandated No Child Left Behind legislation, district staff have become more focused on assessment and data, making decisions based on sound research and teacher instincts.

³I like the bar being raised,² Welter said. ³It¹s challenging, it makes us rework everything we do. It¹s hard and it¹s stressful because it takes a lot of time and teachers do not have that much of it, but I think it¹s a very good thing.²

Early release days have allowed teachers to congregate and discuss educational issues, the school environment, and brainstorm methods to help better teach the children. Welter credited the community for its support of the early release days.

Welter and personnel at the school have been proactive in creating a school environment conducive to learning and personal student development. Joining the Montana Behavioral Initiative and implementing the ROAR program have been instrumental in creating the environment the principal always envisioned.

³I wanted it to be a good, safe, positive place to be,² she said. ³We¹ve highlighted those attributes that we want the kids to develop and focus on. We felt that with those attributes they would be successful. If kids are safe and the atmosphere is positive, they¹re going to learn more and better. We¹ve worked a lot on that.²

In the course of Welter¹s career in education, she has worked with staff of a very high caliber. She said that the staff in Libby has emerged as the best.

³I¹ve worked in some of the biggest districts in the country,² she said. ³I worked for the Department of Defense schools in Europe. I worked for Fairfax County schools in Virginia. I would put our teachers up against their teachers anytime, and they have many more resources than we do.²

Ron Goodman, who will succeed Welter in the principal position, will be an asset to the school, she said.

³He has lots of energy and he¹s coming with experience in a small school,² she said. ³I think the staff will enjoy him and the kids will really like him. The community¹s getting a gem.²

At the end of the month, after Welter walks through the middle school doors for the final time as principal, she will go home and pack her bags. Her husband will whisk her off to Hawaii for a much-needed tropical respite the day after work ends.

³I¹m really going to miss this place, but it was the right time to go,² she said. ³I could have stayed here forever, but nothing is more important to me than family.²