ESSER in Action at Lockwood Schools: A Positive Learning Environment in Big Sky Country

June 15, 2023

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, is launching a series, ESSER in Action, highlighting how COVID-19 relief funds are making an impact across the country. This initiative is providing AASA members with an opportunity to share their good news stories about school improvement projects underway in their respective communities, through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, that are enhancing their school districts.


LOCKWOOD SCHOOLS: A Positive Learning Environment in Big Sky Country

Lockwood High School
Lockwood Schools is home to 1,700 students (K-10th grade) on a single campus located about 10 miles northeast of Billings, Mont. The district strives to achieve a safe, secure and positive learning environment by focusing on the design, maintenance and operation of facilities that enhance learning.

*Tobin Novasio, the superintendent of Lockwood Schools, has been an AASA member for 11 years and was elected to the organization’s executive committee in 2021. He is also a member of AASA’s American Rescue Plan committee, one of more than 30 superintendents and representatives from several national organizations, that was created in 2021 to develop recommendations and insights as schools move toward a safe reopening following the impact left by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At Lockwood, one of the things we were really cognizant of through the whole process was that we wanted to make sure we weren’t going to set ourselves up for falling off the funding cliff when the funds went away,” said Novasio. “We made a considerable effort to prioritize either one-time costs or costs that would allow us to be efficient and save money in the long term.”

On the verge of building a new high school (opened in the summer of 2020), one of the rural district’s top priorities included the maintenance of its physical spaces. “We wanted to provide ways to help our custodial staff. We invested in materials and equipment that helped our crew work more efficiently,” said Novasio.

A key element in this process concentrated on replacing flooring and carpeting that had been in existence since the 1950s. 

“Your physical plant and the cleanliness are big overall parts of the school climate,” said Novasio. “It allows kids and staff to take pride in where they’re at. Nicer facilities, combined with how they’re maintained, plays well into pride and positivity throughout our district.”

Another piece of federal funding enhancing the district was earmarked toward bolstering training and resources for mental health providers on behalf of students and families. Services the district provides include:
  • Monitoring immunization status of all students
  • Maintaining ongoing lists of all students with health concerns
  • Developing emergency health care plans for identified students
  • Assisting with financial needs for health care as necessary
  • Communicating with parents regarding health concerns
“We’ve doubled down on health supports,” said Novasio. “We have to meet the basic needs for all students. In order to sustain academic growth, we have to accelerate social and emotional growth as well and provide the necessary supports for students, staff and families. That’s critically important.” 

Scaling up health supports has enabled the district to build more bridges and relationships with families in the community and strengthen family engagement. “We’re all part of a team and we all have different roles to play,” said Novasio. “We all want what is best for every child and that begins with having a positive relationship with every family.” 

While being able to maintain steady growth, Novasio is proud that Lockwood Schools is a district that is taking ESSER funds and using them to fine tune its resources but he is also aware there is a limit to how much can be spent. “Just because you have an influx of money, doesn’t mean you stray far away from your budget priorities.” 

For more information about how Lockwood Schools is implementing ESSER funds to enhance its school community, contact Kat Sturdevant, AASA advocacy & governance coordinator, at

*Effective July 1, 2023, Tobin Novasio will begin his new position as superintendent of Hardin School District in Hardin, Mont.