According to census data, Missoula public schools will be bracing for a surge of new students moving through the system within the next few years.

Goeff Badenoch is the chairman of the steering committee for the Missoula County Public Schools facility assessment exercise. He explained the statistics that school officials are facing.

"Demographically, we have a big bulge coming into our school system," Badenoch said. "We know how many children have been born, and how many children have moved into the community. Obviously, the bulge will hit kindergarten and elementary schools first, then it will pass through middle schools and end up in our high schools."

Badenoch said a second finding will affect the quality of education in Missoula over the next few years.

"Many of the schools in Missoula are pretty old," Badenoch said. "There are some that are over a hundred years old, and half the schools are over 50 years old. The last time we built a school in Missoula was Chief Charlo elementary in the South Hills area, and that was built 18 years ago. That means a child that was born when that school opened has now moved through the entire school system and has graduated from high school."

The third dynamic facing Missoula's schools is the change in technology over the past few years, and how much it will change again in the next decade.

"The technology that has been used to teach children is changing. It is no longer just children sitting in rows facing the teacher," Badenoch said. "Now, new technology is helping the teacher educate kids, helping them learn how to think, and how to work together. In today's workplace, more and more employers need their employees to know how to work together in collaborative groups, and that's something that definitely has to be taught."

With those three dynamics - demographics, the age of existing school buildings and technology - the process of building and remodeling schools must be revised. Badenoch said a series of public meetings will be planned to introduce community members to the changing dynamics of education, helping them understand the challenges that the next generations will be facing. He said these will primarily be listening sessions, to hear community input.

"This process will culminate with recommendations our committee will make to the school board, and that's where the rubber will meet the road," Badenoch said. "The board will have to decide whether to close a school, expand a school, or build a new school. We just don't know yet."

Badenoch expects the bulge of new students to begin moving through the system in the next three to five years.

Goeff Badenoch, Chairman of the steering committee for the Missoula County Public Schools facility assessment exercise: