Sunday, June 16, 2024

Helena Flats School holds trustee election

| April 24, 2024 12:00 AM

Helena Flats School has two three-year trustee terms open. 

Candidates are Kevin Fritz, Amanda Keeland, Brian Ek, Stephanie Brown and Chris Parson.

The election is May 7. 

Trustees are volunteers representing the public and are responsible for making decisions that impact how schools operate and are held accountable. Duties include but are not limited to setting achievement goals, reviewing and adopting policies, annual budgets and educational programs and managing the collective bargaining process.

The Daily Inter Lake contacted school board trustee candidates in contested elections. The biographical information included was provided by candidates and edited for spelling, punctuation and format.

Ballots must be received by a voter’s respective school district by Election Day and may be mailed or hand-delivered.

The district office is located at 1000 Helena Flats Road, Kalispell. Call 257-2301 for more information.

Kevin Fritz (incumbent) 

Occupation: IT Manager/Farmer.

Family: Wife and three daughters.

Education: B.S. in Education.

Background: Grew up in Kalispell as a fourth-generation farmer, knowing the community and the history of the area. Taught four years in a K-8 rural school. Spent most of my life working with kids in 4-H, FFA, or sports in some capacity. Understand kids want to be challenged and have expectations put on them. Currently work as an information technology manager where it is routine to work on multiple projects and be successful with a variety of people skills and backgrounds.

Why do you want to serve as a trustee? I want our local community school to be successful and ensure the kids can have success after they leave. There are a lot of important goals and issues we still need to accomplish and I really would like to see them through yet.

What is one of the top issues facing the school district and how would you work to address it? There are really two big issues that are going to be driving a majority of decisions over the next year or two. First, we are seeing growth within the community and the school is realizing it. Enrollment is all-time high and we will have to look at expansion and how to do it to best serve the community and students. The second is expanding our curriculum to all grades and upgrading our science curriculum. We invested in a new reading and math curriculum over the last two years. We have seen significant improvement in both reading and math scores.   Need to ensure all grade levels have the same curriculum and teachers can continuously receive professional development to maintain our top-notch staff. 

Amanda Keeland

Occupation: Mortgage loan advisor for CrossCountry Mortgage.

Family: I have been married to my husband Eddy for 15 years and we have two amazing daughters Alana and Olivia. Olivia is a current second-grade student at Helena Flats.

Background:  With a diverse background encompassing leadership, community involvement and board experience, I bring valuable skills to the role of school board trustee. My experience includes management of 100-plus employees, which honed my leadership and organization abilities. Currently, as a mortgage advisor and former banker, I possess financial acumen essential for budgetary decision-making. Serving on multiple boards including being a current board member of a local non-profit has provided me with governance experience and a commitment to community service. Additionally, my volunteer work, coaching and active participation in community events demonstrate my dedication to fostering a supportive environment for children and families. 

Why do you want to serve as a trustee? I want to serve as trustee to ensure a safe and supportive learning environment for all children including my own. With my passion for education and background in finance, I am dedicated to making a positive contribution to our school community. 

What is one of the top issues facing the school district and how would you work to address it? One of the top issues facing our school district is ensuring continuity in leadership amidst the departure of our current principal and potentially our superintendent. I will work collaboratively with board members and staff to facilitate a smooth transition, prioritize hiring qualified candidates, and ensure ongoing support for staff and students to maintain stability and progress in our school’s mission and vision.

Brian Ek

Occupation: Entrepreneur.

Family: I have been married to my wife Meche Ek for almost 19 years. We have two children, Sidney Ek, 15, and Matthias Ek, 11.

Education: I attended Somers Elementary and Flathead High School (class of 2001). Received an Associate of Arts Degree from FVCC and numerous certificates of training from the U.S. Army.

Background: I have risen to leadership roles all my life. In high school, I was editor-in-chief of the yearbook. In the Army, I earned the rank of sergeant and held secret clearance for three years. I have managed, trained and coached staff with many years of restaurant management. I lead from the front and work hard.

Why do you want to serve as a trustee? The children of Helena Flats need help. There is an extreme lack of curriculum, and years of state test results reflect that. Corporal punishment is handled with no accountability or transparency. When a leader can cross zero-tolerance lines, how may others be allowed to act? I am driven to protect these children, and I fear for the type of adults who may be enticed to work in such a tolerant institution. Our children deserve a safe school and proper education.

What is one of the top issues facing the school district and how would you work to address it?  The current leadership needs to be replaced. Helena Flats is on a downward spiral. The school is broke. Instead of balancing the budget, all current trustees intend to levy the local taxpayers, again. A history of maxing budgets and spending irresponsibly. Until 2028 taxpayers will pay over $14 per mile for student transportation when the industry standard is $6-$8 per mile. The school allocates $200 per classroom per year for supplies, while paying $648 per child per year in debt services. Time to tighten the belts. Forty-two percent of elementary schools in Flathead Valley are debt-free, we can do it.  How about raises for the good teachers instead? As a trustee, I will never vote for a levy. It is time for Helena Flats School to keep their hands out of our wallets and off of our children.

Stephanie Brown

Occupation: Parks and Recreation professional, currently with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Family: Married with two children, 6 and 8, who attend Helena Flats School.

Background: My professional roles and personal interests uniquely qualify me to serve Helena Flats School as a trustee. My career has focused on improving communities through recreation and event planning and park and playground development. I have served as staff liaison to several boards and commissions, and currently serve as staff liaison to four citizen committees focused on improving access to outdoor recreation. I am the vice president of the Helena Flats School Parent Teacher Organization and volunteer for local non-profit events that promote healthy lifestyles.  

Why do you want to serve as a trustee? I care deeply about education and learning opportunities that improve individual and collective well-being. I believe an active and engaged board can support growth and education experiences that positively impact the quality of life for our children, educators, the district and our community.  If elected, I will contribute positive energy and a fresh perspective. I will provide significant community-building and collaboration experience, along with a strong desire to support improved health and safety for children, families, and the educators and staff that serve the district.

What is one of the top issues facing the school district and how would you work to address it? Helena Flats School has experienced significant challenges this year that have affected the sense of community within the school and district boundaries. Communication with families regarding the superintendent’s absence from school and the principal’s resignation has been through local newspaper articles versus direct communication from the school, and this has left many people feeling concerned. 

I will commit to improving communication between the board/school, parents/caregivers and the community. I will be an active and transparent trustee who engages with and encourages community members to become involved with the board and other opportunities affecting decision-making.

I will seek opportunities to build a sense of community within the school and school district boundaries. I'll achieve this by listening to the concerns of families, district staff, and the community — trusting that we all want the best for our children. 

Helena Flats School has extraordinary educators and support staff who genuinely care for our children. I will work to support all staff while being mindful of school policy and state regulations.  When staff feel supported and valued, our children thrive. When we all work together (and set a good example) we build a kind, caring and supportive community that flourishes. 

Chris Parson

Occupation: General manager at Aluma Glass, Kalispell.

Family: Wife Stephanie and daughter Hailey.

Education: MBA SNHU, Bachelor of Science from MSU.

Background: I have served on numerous boards throughout the community, including ALERT (current chair), Northwest Montana United Way, Westside Community Center Corporation Inc./Westside Condo Owners Association, 2014 Mountain Madness Airshow director, North Flathead Yacht Club and Leadership Flathead. I am a high school football official and current pool leader. I have facilitated leadership development for small businesses and nonprofits, as well as volunteered at many community events throughout the Flathead Valley. My previous experience includes over a decade working with the business community as the Small Business Development director and leading community education and workforce training areas at Flathead Valley Community College. Prior to this, I was a United States Marine Corps officer and aviator. 

Why do you want to serve as a trustee? My interest in serving as a trustee is to provide support to the school and the school’s leadership team. Specifically, a superintendent needs a solid board to recommend and gain approval in areas that support the school principal, teachers, and students. I feel I can be most helpful in ensuring fiscal responsibility and helping find proactive solutions that improve the well-being and success of the students, staff, administration and parents. 

What is one of the top issues facing the school district and how would you work to address it? I believe the number one goal of any K-8 school is to ensure that high school readiness is at the forefront of everything. While there is much to consider and accomplish as students progress through K-8, the focus must be on success after eighth grade. This can be accomplished with a solid board of trustees that creates accountability and transparency to not only the parents, teachers, and students but also to the taxpayer community that should continue to be informed of how the school is managing and thriving. In addition, the surrounding community at large needs to feel that the fiduciary responsibilities of the board are transparent and trusted. We must produce an academic environment that creates resiliency in the students and retention in the staff. Rural districts are often challenged with staffing challenges, but with a focus of building a culture of trust, confidence, and support it will help to minimize turnover and deliver success. All of this leads to more success in the classroom and increases high school readiness for our students. 

    Kevin Fritz

    Brian Ek
    Stephanie Brown
    Chris Parson