REXBURG — An education-minded community and encouraging parents are helping to make the Madison County School District thrive.
You couldn’t ask for a better combination, says school superintendent Dr. Geoff Thomas.
“We have BYU-Idaho here, and parents are supportive,” he said. “Parents, teachers, administrators and school board members are all working toward the betterment of the children. For an educator, it’s an ideal spot.”
In all, there are 5,200 students attending Madison schools. Of that, there are 1,151 enrolled at Madison High School. The district is comprised of 10 buildings. In addition to Madison High, there are six elementary schools, one middle school and one junior high school.
The elementary schools are made up of pre-k to fourth grade with grades five through six at the middle school and grades seven through nine at the junior high school. Grades 10 through 12 make up the high school. The district also provides an alternative high school known as Central High School. Madison Online is also offered to students.
The district continues to grow and to accommodate what district officials asked for and received a $27 million bond in 2017.
“We are so thankful for it. We’re just so grateful for a supportive community,” Thomas said.
The bond required a super majority or at least 66 and ⅔ percent of “yes” votes for the bond.
“We had 81.5 percent in the affirmative, which is the second highest ‘yes’ vote in Idaho history,” he said. “It’s a killer threshold. A lot of districts can’t meet that.”
The bond money helped cover the cost of four new classrooms at Burton and Kennedy Elementary Schools. Thomas noted that both schools are “high population impact areas” thus the need for additional classrooms at those grade schools, Thomas said.
The classrooms were recently completed.
“The teachers have started to move in. The classrooms look amazing,” he said.
Thomas noted that some of the classrooms were created with 21st century computers in mind.
“We designed them in a kiva design that is a tiered seating arrangement. It’s like stadium seating in a corner of the room. Of course, they’re equipped for any kind of modern technology projectors,” he said.
The rooms also come with their own drinking fountains and hand washing stations.
“If they need a drink, they don’t need to get a hall pass,” Thomas said.
Thomas said that the new rooms come with lots of natural lighting.
“There’s big open windows — that type of thing. That’s a crucial component of effective learning. Natural lighting is just the best. The classrooms are so much different from when I went to school in the dinosaur era. It’s exciting to see these new developments,” he said.
Lincoln Elementary School, the district’s oldest grade school, will also benefit from the bond money, Thomas reported.
“We are designing a new gymnasium. Lincoln is receiving a full-size gym. They have a tiny little cafeteria/gymnasium combo. The new gym will separate that,” he said. “A full-size gym at Lincoln is where they can have school assemblies.”
Thomas reported that the gym would be similar to the ones that Kennedy and South Fork Elementary Schools currently have. Thomas added that Lincoln would also get extra parking.
“Lincoln has been woefully short of parking. We’re going to relocate part of the playground to a different area and put in additional patron parking,” he said.
Thomas was thrilled that Lincoln recently received a $15,000 grant from Title One officials. He noted how Lincoln Elementary administrators used the money for kids and declined to use any of it to attend a Blue Ribbon School ceremony in Washington D.C. to honor the school for its efforts.
“I think that exemplifies the caliber of the people we have working there. I’m very proud of them and their hard work,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have great leaders like that.”
Thomas also reported that a new air conditioning unit was planned for the middle school.
“That school can get really hot late in the fall and late spring. It’s really miserable. The air conditioning will make it a much more pleasant environment,” he said.
Thanks to the bond, Adams Elementary School is getting its cafeteria remodeled. It’s also getting a new classroom, parking lot, upgraded lighting, flooring and new playground equipment, Thomas said.
“We’re putting a lot of money into Adams. Their cafeteria is really old and definitely needs an upgrade. We’re looking forward to doing that,” he said.
The bond money is also earmarked to add 10 additional classrooms to Madison High School by the end of the school year.
“We’ll have two additional science labs and a robotics room. That’s really cool. That robotics program — they’re like national champions,” he said.
Thomas explained that the robotics program involves a lot of coding, math and science.
“They’ll say, ‘We want robotic equipment that can do a, b and c.’ They’ll work together to make a fully functional mini-robot to meet a, b and c,” he said.
The high school has had the robotics class for about six years, and it continues to develop.
“It’s fun to watch. The kids will come and demonstrate what their robots can do. It’s the future,” he said.
The high school will soon have three gyms and a new stadium thanks to residents approving the bond.
All the upgrades are a result of continuing school district growth, but growth is great, Thomas said.
“We love the headache associated with growth. When you’re growing, it’s vibrant. It’s exciting that we can expand. It’s a lot better than contraction. When you lose 400 students, it is terrible. Adding and growing as a community — it’s fun, it’s exciting,” he said.
With all that growth, the district hopes to provide more opportunities for students.
“It’s so they can have a well-rounded experience by the time they graduate. We have vocational programs, academic and athletic programs. The need is out there, and we try to meet that,” he said. “We want to get ahead of the curve and meet that need.”
In addition to athletics and academics, the school district continually addresses the mental health needs of its students via its Madison Cares program.
“We do a lot of youth and adult mental health training. It’s been very, very popular. We have trained clinical psychologists and counselors that work with students and their families,” he said. “We’re so pleased to have that as a part of our school district.”
Where students were once considered to be acting up or not well-behaved in class, the district now looks at that differently, Thomas said.
“When Johnny or Suzie is acting withdrawn, acting out or sullen, we know that something’s going on. It’s hard for a teacher to address those. Having those trained in mental health has been really beneficial,” he said.
Thomas noted as early as 10 or 15 years ago, mental health challenges were stigmatized. Those suffering with such challenges were treated as if they had leprosy.
“We categorized huge lumps of people as being weird. There were probably reasons such as anxiety, depression, obsession compulsive disorder schizophrenia — whatever the mental handicapping condition might be,” he said.
Thanks to Madison Cares, those with mental health challenges can get the help they need.
“Now, it’s a lot more accepted. If someone is having a rough patch, they can go talk to someone. We’re trying to remove the stigma about that, and I think it’s working,” he said.
The school district received a $9 million grant to create Madison Cares about 10 years ago. The most recent grant to continue the program was for around $5 million, Thomas reported.
“We were one of two school districts nationwide to get this grant,” he said.
The grant money helped provide for counselors and took a burden off of traditional school counselors not equipped to handle serious mental health issues.
“You have to train staff. You have to train your teachers and administration and counseling staff. You’re marrying all these different components together. It took a while to integrate and assimilate, but it’s been incredibly effective,” he said. “If we do have a student in the district having an issue, a referral is made, and the team will do an onsite evaluation to make sure everything is OK. They’ll talk with the student and do the testing to see if they can meet needs.”
Thomas also noted the parenting classes offered to Madison County residents.
“Children don’t come with a manual. We have people here who help train and teach parents to be better parents,” he said.
The whole goal is to address all the needs of students from physical to mental.
“A student who is severely depressed and suffering with anxiety is not going to focus on algebra. He’ll be asking, ‘What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel this way?”’ he said. “Once you address basic important needs, then focus on their academics.”
The school district also has an active anti-bullying program that starts in the grade schools. The district regularly promotes “kindness campaigns.” The district encourages teachers and students to report any kind of bullying.
“Everyone wants to come to school and feel safe. That’s of huge importance to us. We’ve worked very hard to eliminate bullying in all of its forms. We work toward that as soon as we’re made aware of it. We take steps immediately to make it stop and to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Overall, school officials seem to be happy with the progress that the district is making.
“We always see room to improve. We set goals that make us stretch. Parents are supportive, and parents are the child’s first teacher,” he said.
The future continues to be bright for the district, Thomas said.
“Yes, it’s very positive,” he said.
For more information on the Madison School District, visit http://www.msd321.com/.