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Kalispell board named state School Board of the Year

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | October 19, 2021 12:00 AM

Following another challenging year for school boards across Montana under the strain of the pandemic, one board stands out for its dedication to education and excellence for students.

The Kalispell Public Schools Board of Trustees has been named the 2021 School Board of the Year by the Montana Association of School Superintendents, whose membership is made up of superintendents across the state.

The award highlights the outstanding work of school boards’ dedication and ethical service to Montana’s children and recognizes accomplishments in the areas of board policy, infrastructure for learning and teaching, and innovative educational programs, according to the association.

Any member of MASS may nominate a school board for the honor. Following a review of applications, a committee may select up to two notable school boards.

Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Micah Hill submitted the nomination letter, noting the board’s relentless pursuit of excellence in education, a board “striving to serve their constitutional commitment to develop the full potential of every child.

“I can say without hesitation that the Board of Trustees at KPS would rival any Board in the nation for the way it prepares our students to be contributing global citizens,” Hill’s nomination letter stated.

Hill noted the board’s contribution to the success of various academic programs through its support.

“Without the full support of the Board, this would not happen. The Board of Trustees is keenly aware of how policy can shape and influence, and ultimately create a transformational environment and position the District to be at the forefront of 21st Century learning skills. The Trustees give teachers support and academic freedom to create new courses that are applicable to the lives of students, encourages college and career readiness, and has an expectation that we are continually improving to ensure that the academic, personal, and social-emotional growth of our students is a top priority,” Hill said

School board trustees are elected unpaid positions.

Current trustees are chairwoman Sue Corrigan, vice-chairman Jack Fallon, Heather Asher, Will Hiatt, Lance Isaak, Mark Kornick, Rebecca Linden, Diane Morton Stout, Scott Warnell, Ursula Wilde and Kim Wilson. Amy Waller was a trustee during the 2020-21 school year covered in the nomination letter.

The award validates the board’s dedication and hard work, according to Corrigan.

“The board has focused on providing quality education in the Flathead,” she said.

OPERATING UNDER the pandemic has made the past couple of school years quite challenging. Covid-19 took school boards into new territory in making health-related decisions, which was not without community pushback on some issues, specifically masks. Masks were required for the 2020-21 school year and are optional this school year.

“I think we’ve done an excellent job listening to the needs of the community. We’ve honored science, evaluated our options and been respectful of the expertise of our administration,” Corrigan said.

“I think the community has been very respectful to us lately because they know we’re doing the right things for our students,” she said. “We get to focus on quality education for our students and our community and do what we’re elected to do. We’re going to start our strategic planning process that will put us toward our future goals, so that’s a very exciting thing for me.”

School board recommendations that trustees base their decisions on, come from administrators such as Hill.

“For me, the credit goes to Micah for the detail and in-depth understanding he goes into, to come up with the recommendations,” Fallon said.

Fallon said administrators have done a good job ensuring trustees have a good understanding of possible ramifications to different decisions, informing the board on district conditions and asking for input.

“He’s at least made my role as a trustee easy because of his ability to grasp all the consequences and ramifications of decisions — whether a year ago when we were requiring masking, or no masking this year,” Fallon said. “What is everyone comfortable doing? What are good approaches to addressing the political side of things versus the need to have students in the classroom, and that students in the classroom should be the priority?

Fallon also mentioned the upcoming strategic planning process.

“Strategic planning is basically making sure we’re on the right track. What should the academic model look like going forward?” Fallon said.

The award will be presented at the Montana Conference for Education Leadership on Oct. 21, which will be held virtually.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 406-758-4431 or by email at hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.