Meet the New Staff at Hellgate


Shown above is the Northside Garbage Quilt done by art teacher Joanna Laporte. Each design is made out of trash Laporte collected in the Northside neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Joanna Laporte

Maggie Vann, Co-Editor

     School is finally back in swing, and with a new school year comes incredible new staff. The new additions to Hellgate include: Bookkeeper Cheri Ferguson, Art Teacher Joanna Laporte, Admin Secretary Susan Elliott, Latin Teacher Brent Harper, Spanish Teacher Ned Gall, Student Services and English Teacher Walter Pfau, School Resource Officer Charles Burton and Counselor Morgan Troutt. Each new staff member is excited to be part of the Hellgate community and they look forward to what the year will bring. 

     Joanna Laporte, the new addition to the art department, is thrilled to accomplish her goal of returning to Hellgate after student teaching here years ago. Laporte said that she “loved the school energy and that the students were so creative and fun to work with.” 

      Before coming to Hellgate, Laporte taught art in Alberton for five years and worked as a traveling art teacher for the Art Mobile of Montana, and eventually became the director of the organization. The majority of Laporte’s artwork is about raising environmental consciousness and she enjoys outdoor activities such as skiing, rafting and mountain biking. Laporte is excited to watch her students “thrive in the arts”, and if you get on her good side, she makes really yummy cookies.

      Jim Johnson (JJ), the School Resource Officer (SRO) that everyone knew around the school, retired from his job last year. Charles Burton, the 6’6” new face seen in the halls, wanted to take on a challenge in his law enforcement career and became the new School Resource Officer. Burton had an eventful first week at Hellgate with the school shooting threat, but said that he loves “how polite and friendly everyone has been. Everyone seems to be in good spirits throughout the day and excited to be here.” 

     Burton graduated from the University of Montana and, before coming to Hellgate, was an officer assigned to the Patrol Division for the Missoula Police Department and a State Trooper prior to that. When he’s not on the job, Burton enjoys training Jiu Jistsu with his partners from work and you can often find him watching the University of Montana’s college football games. Burton hopes to serve as a “positive role model for all of our Knights” and is excited to get to know the students and staff members.  

      Cheri Ferguson is the friendly face seen when you first walk into Hellgate High School. She is an experienced bookkeeper and worked in the administration at the University of Montana for ten years. She looks forward to getting to know everyone. “One of the reasons I took this job is because I thought it would be more rewarding than working at the University, and so far it has been,” she said. Ferguson added that working at Hellgate has been more busy than working at the University and that she “loves the kids and how active it is.” This awesome new bookkeeper is a crafter. She does Dollar Tree crafting, wreath making and other crafts and looks forward to applying her skills to the bookkeeping job.

     Many people would recognize Walt Pfau from the subbing he’s done in years past, or from the classroom observation he did with Britt Hanford. His dad, grandfather and aunt all graduated from Hellgate, which added to the draw to the school. First, Pfau took a student services job, and then, a creative writing job. Before coming to Hellgate, Pfau enlisted in the army in 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts, and was stationed in Fort Luis for 3.5 years. After he served, Pfau obtained an English Teaching Degree from the University of Montana and is now a licensed English teacher for grades K-12. He also has a minor in journalism. 

     Pfau was thrilled to be named the new creative writing teacher at Hellgate and believes “the only way to get better at writing is to write more and write often.” Currently, his class is reading The Most Dangerous Game, by Richard Connell. In the future, Pfau said that he “wants to give a lot of choices to the students” around what the structure of the class will look like. The goal of the class is to “change the way people think about writing, from something that people feel like they should give up on, into something they feel like everyone can do.” When he isn’t writing or helping out students, some of Pfau’s hobbies include cycling, photography and cooking and his superhero skill is that he is “patient to a fault,” which is more than ideal for working with high school kids.  

     Hellgate is known for its excellent language classes, and this year’s addition to the language department is Hellgate graduate Brent Harper. Before coming to teach at Hellgate, Harper taught Latin and English at a private school in Seattle, Washington. After hearing that a position was open at his old high school where he found his passion for Latin, Harper jumped on the opportunity to become a student teacher. He said his favorite part about the language is that “you can read works that were written 2,000 years ago and understand them. It’s fascinating to deal with a whole literary and political situation that’s far removed from the place that you are.” 

     Harper is excited to be back at Hellgate. “I really love the people here, it’s really neat coming back to a building that I knew 20 years ago and seeing all the changes,” he said. The Latin teacher also enjoys rock climbing, paddle boarding, jogging, and playing Dungeons and Dragons and other board games.

     If you are ever wandering around Hellgate and run into a nice lady with a Southern accent, it’s most likely counselor Ruth Troutt. In January 2021, Troutt and her husband, who is a brewer at Bayern Brewing, moved from the Home of the Blues and Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Memphis, Tennessee, to the “hippy dippy” town of Missoula, Montana, as Troutt calls it. Before becoming a Hellgate counselor, Troutt obtained her counseling degree from University of Memphis and was a counselor at an elementary school in Tennessee. So far, Troutt loves Hellgate because the students “have so many cool opportunities that I didn’t necessarily have [in high school].” She also enjoys the “laid back nature of the town.” Outside of work, Troutt enjoys reading, thrift shopping, watching reality TV and hanging out with her hound dog Jolene who will “steal your man.” Be sure to stop by and visit Troutt when you get the chance, her accent will be sure to teleport you to the South.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

     The new staff at Hellgate each bring something new and valuable to the table and look forward to their time at the school and meeting the students. If you get the chance, stop by and talk to the new members of the Hellgate community and get to know the incredible new staff.