New West School Principal building strong relationships in district

By 
Chris Mcconnell
Thursday, October 8, 2020
Karla Miller

Karla Miller

First–year West School Principal Karla Miller is taking this school year’s challenges in stride and is happy to be one of the Laurel School District’s new administrators.

The Oregon native and Portland State University graduate (Social Science Bachelors Degree and Masters in Education with a Principal’s Endorsement) taught 4th grade in Great Falls for three years before taking a job in Helena in a dedicated STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) classroom for the next six years.

“I love teaching science,” Miller said.

She taught the STARBASE program which was funded by the Department of Defense with the mission to get students interested in technology–based careers. The curriculum involved solving real world scenario problems using math, chemistry, robotics and even rocketry.

Miller said the students were using 3D printers before they became widespread and common. Unfortunately the DOD cut funding to the program so she switched to a junior high after-school program where she facilitated mentoring between engineers and students.

After teaching Physical Science and Chemistry to 8th graders, she took a year leave of absence in Kalispell where she worked as a curriculum director in a co–op which included 25 different school districts.

“Some of the smaller schools can’t afford a dedicated curriculum director so they join a co– op,” she said.

During her time there Miller discovered she preferred to work within a single school district and especially within one building. “In the co–op I wasn’t able to develop the relationships with the teachers and students like I wanted,” she said, “so I went back to Helena.”

She taught 6th grade math for a couple years, filled in for the principal as needed and worked on a literacy grant before she applied for the West School position late last spring.

She was hired during the summer and is happy to be in the district and close to her family.

“My son and his wife live in Billings and it was definitely a draw to be closer to them,” she said. “My daughter is also here doing EMT school as well and it’s been seven years since I’ve had both kids in the same town.”

Miller grew up in the country and loves riding horses, hiking and fly fishing and said she was ultimately looking for a small town feel while appreciating access to bigger city amenities.

“I’m enjoying being a part of the Laurel community and the staff, students and parents have been great,” she said.

Along with everyone else in the district, she has faced myriad challenges this fall. With the COVID-19 protocols and restrictions there was obviously a lot involved in getting the school year underway.

“Our secretary resigned before the school year so that was my first hire. Then we had to figure out the playground, master schedule, barriers in classrooms and a multitude of other problems. We are focusing on grace and patience this year and supporting our teachers who are both online and in the building,” she said.

Miller said the families have been supportive and the kids are embracing the mask rules and having fun with them.

“I had one student yester day who had a backpack full of masks and chose the one that best matched her outfit,” she said.

She also said students are good about using hand sanitizer and the staff and community are helping things run smoothly.

“The maintenance department has been wonderful and we had an organization donate cloth masks for students and staff who forget theirs.”

Miller is recording a daily video announcement that all students can watch.

“I am recording these at home without a mask so both online and in-class students can be involved. It’s where birthdays and lunch options are announced. We will be adding other fun stuff as well, such as ‘Trivia Tuesday.’”

All in all, her experience has been positive this year.

“The level of support from all the administrators has been wonderful. Superintendent Linda Filpula, the curriculm director and student services director have all been great in answering questions about the culture of the LSD and West School,” she said.

On Wednesday Superintendent Filpula said, “Karla Miller is doing an outstanding job leading West School with her collaborative, creative and can–do attitude. She hit the ground running and we are excited she is part of our Laurel Team serving students and staff!”

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