HELENA — The Helena and East Helena School Districts are both bringing in new leaders for the next school year. The transition may be smoother than in some other cases, though, because both new superintendents are already working in their districts.
Incoming Helena superintendent Rex Weltz is currently the principal at Rossiter Elementary School. He is a Montana native who worked at school districts in Montana, Alaska and Washington state. Eventually, he joined the Polson School District, spending four years as a high school principal and four more as superintendent.
Last year, Weltz moved to Helena to take the job at Rossiter. He says it wasn’t a specific decision to move away from the superintendent role – his family has connections to Helena and he was interested in working in a larger Class AA school district. Weltz says he didn’t expect current superintendent Tyler Ream would leave his position, but he was willing to pursue the opening.
Weltz believes having a year back in the school was a valuable experience ahead of taking on the superintendent’s role.
“A lot of the times when you are in the district office, you lose the ability to be with kids every day,” he said. “So now moving back up, I can remember where we were through this pandemic and what was going on in the lives of teachers and kids, and it’ll help me be a better leader when I get back to the district office.”
East Helena’s next superintendent is Dan Rispens, who has been principal of East Valley Middle School for nearly two decades and principal of East Helena High School since it opened in 2019. He, too, is a Montana native, and he spent several years teaching in Helena before joining EHPS.
Rispens took over as EVMS principal when Ron Whitmoyer became the district’s superintendent. He said he began working on a superintendent certification several years ago, knowing Whitmoyer might retire soon and this opportunity could open up for him.
“It’s also a little bittersweet,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of time in at East Valley Middle School, and I’ve put a lot of sweat equity into getting the high school built here and developing this program, so it’s going to be difficult to step away from that for sure, but I’ll definitely still be involved in what’s going on in both building as superintendent.”
Both Weltz and Rispens describe their predecessors as leaving “big shoes to fill,” but both have the advantage of being able to work with the current superintendents to make the transition work smoothly.
Weltz said – taking over the district as COVID-19 continues to dominate attention – the pandemic will be on his mind, but his main focus will be on how the district moves forward from it.
“The work forward is to get out of COVID: address the lack of learning – opportunities for students that just didn’t have the opportunity to learn, to close achievement gaps – and then building relationships as we do that throughout our community,” he said.
In East Helena, Rispens says one of the main goals will be building a new leadership team. Whitmoyer, Rispens and Radley principal Joe McMahon had all been in their current positions for a decade or more, and with the district for at least 20 years. Now, with Whitmoyer and McMahon retiring and Rispens moving up, EHPS is replacing two principals – and adding another to handle the high school as it continues to grow.
“There’s going to be a lot of work that just needs to be done helping the new principals out, getting them set up for success, making sure they know what the details of their jobs are and what the district expects and what the board has been accustomed to in terms of building leadership, and what some of our working culture is here in East Helena,” said Rispens.
While both men admit challenges are ahead, they say they’re grateful for the opportunities.
“I’m just super-excited about this next step, really excited to be part of the East Helena community and here to serve folks,” said Rispens.
“I don’t see it as a reward; I really see at as a responsibility to serve – not only the students, but our community and our staff,” Weltz said.
The Helena school board approved a two-year contract with Weltz during a meeting Tuesday. He is set to officially start July 1, and his base salary will be $172,500.
East Helena has not yet finalized a contract with Rispens, who is set to start his new job at the end of July. School board chair Scott Walter said they will be discussing contract language in the next few weeks.