2020 School Board Candidates

Below, you’ll find information for each School Board of Trustees candidate published originally in the Helena Independent Record.  Click on each name for additional information published in the IR.

The Helena Public School District does not endorse any specific candidate or candidates. 

Christina Noel

Why are you running for this office?

Schools are an essential part of our community, and now more than ever we need the voice of experienced leaders in education who are able to help lead and guide our district through this turbulent and historic time. We need leaders who are able to support innovative solutions to the problems that districts, including Helena, face today.

I am running for this office because I am ready to support district leaders with the coming transitions – both those related to the closures this spring for distance learning and the opening of a high school in East Helena. Through my work both at the OPI and my current work with BetterLesson, I have supported school and district leaders across Montana and nationwide to implement standards, transform instructional practice, and respond to community needs.

As a parent of two current Helena School District students and as a member of a family with a long connection to this district – starting in the early 1900s when my grandmother first entered the doors of Hawthorne Elementary – I am committed to the success of this district. Serving on the school board is one way that I can both give back to my community, and do my part to ensure that the Helena School District is able to continue providing a world class education to students, including any future members of our family.

What do you hope to accomplish in this office?

What I hope to accomplish in office is simple – I want to be an advocate for students and an active member of the team working to solve the problems and issues currently facing the district.

One issue that the school board needs to address is the continued closure of schools due to COVID-19 and the upcoming transition back to a traditional classroom setting. As a board member, I will advocate for a comprehensive plan to address possible future closures and to support students and teachers as they navigate the eventual return to classrooms. As these plans are built, I hope to support the inclusion of innovative practices that are aligned with both teacher capacity and research-based best practice.

Another issue that the school board will tackle in the coming months is the adjustment of district policies and priorities as our enrollment and funding levels shift due to the opening of a high school in East Helena. My priority as a board member will be to focus our efforts on retaining the current programs offered to our students. It is essential that we are able to continue to support all students to pursue their interests and reach their full potential. This means that we need to focus our efforts on continuing to offer both interest based electives and advanced coursework.

Why should people vote for you?

If elected, I bring valuable experience and expertise to the board. The issues facing our district are similar to issues that schools state and nationwide are experiencing, and I have a strong record of success in coaching and supporting administrators and educators as they navigate these challenges. I am prepared to support our community and our district over the next three years as we continue to provide a world class education to all of our students.

Paul Stahl

Why are you running for this office?

I think I have something to offer in these hard budgetary times, now compounded by Covid-19. I think my age and previous service has given me some wisdom and the ability to think long term. That is not to say that short term problems are not significant. If the district moves to on-line education, what happens to kids with disabilities and kids in poverty without access to the internet and students in science labs and students in industrial arts. What happens to kids who need one consistent, safe, and loving place to go every day? I think my experience as a teacher leader gives me the ability to communicate and collaborate with teachers, who have been thrust to the forefront of the budget process. I think my community activities and leadership experience will help in maintaining the relationship with the board’s constituencies when significant changes must and will be made.

What do you hope to accomplish in this office?

My experience has taught that trustees with agendas fare poorly, at least in their first 2 years of service. That being said, I filed for Trustee because I thought I could assist the district (very well run) find a formula to balance revenue (money coming in) and expense (money going out). Covid-19 has drastically changed everything. I think schools are going to struggle to maintain standards. I think the necessary changes will be painful to students, teachers, and parents. I would like to be directly involved in the struggle.

Why should people vote for you?

A trustee has 4 constituencies: students, teachers, taxpayers, parents. Each must be considered in the decision-making process. I think much of what the trustees do depends on community and teacher support. I think my years of public service and community involvement can bridge the differences between the various constituencies. I have an abundance of energy and knowledge that can be useful in these difficult times.

Lois A. Fitzpatrick

Why are you running for this office?

I am running for this office for many reasons. My two daughters were educated K-12 in the Helena Public Schools and went on to great colleges and both have their Masters’ degrees. They received excellent educations in the school district. I now have 4 grandchildren. One is currently in Jim Darcy with two others starting there in the next two years; two years later another one will start at Rossiter. I want them to have the same great education as their mothers. I would also like to see some changes to the curriculum that would assure that our students become critical thinkers and be good citizens in this country and in the global community. I want to make sure that all the teachers have the resources that they need to teach. I am also concerned how we are going to bring children back to school in the time of Covid-19. Teaching has been continued via the internet; however, not all children have the equipment they need; the high-speed internet; the ability to learn through this new format. How will teaching be next year? The time period from classroom teaching to internet and back to classroom teaching may be very jarring for students. I would like to make sure that every child have the technology they need to learn.

What do you hope to accomplish in this office?

The budget is the overarching need. However, I do believe that there are priorities that are not being looked at. With my budgeting experience, I believe I would bring great experience to the budget process. I would like to bring more hands-on learning. Not all students learn by the “traditional” methods. I want to see more career counseling, more technical trades being taught. Once again, not all students go on to college. I want to see more art, music and theater and PE being taught. We should be teaching holistically. I want to make sure that our special needs and disabled students are receiving high quality education and that the resources are meeting their needs. I want to make sure that libraries have the materials, which include full time librarians, that will assist our students into lifelong readers and learners. I want to make sure that our students, faculty and staffs are in safe environments. Finally, I want to guarantee that the Helena School District has early childhood education in all schools. More students should be exposed to college courses via Carroll College and the University system. Helena has such a rich educational environment and students should have the advantage of using the resources. I have seen students that did alright in high school becoming excellent students in college due to the experiences they gained.

Why should people vote for you?

I know Helena and I know education. I know I will bring a fresh perspective to the Board. I am passionate about students. I also bring lobbying and legislative experience. I was a volunteer lobbyist for the Montana Library Association for about 15 years; and a volunteer lobbyist for the American Cancer Association Cancer Action Network for 23 years. I am concerned about the health of our students concerning smoking, vaping, and sun health. I am active in the community with memberships in Montana Cancer Coalition; Healthy Communities Coalition; ACS Cancer Action Network.

Jennifer McKee

Why are you running for this office?

I would not be where I am today without public schooling, first at Lockwood Public Schools, then Billings Senior High and, finally, at the University of Montana, where I earned my B.A. in journalism. Public schools are how we prepare our children for a lifetime of meaningful work, how we harness the economic potential of our community and how we make good on our promise that every child gets an equal shot. Helena has great public schools, and not because we’re lucky. Teachers, volunteers, coaches, administrators, lunchroom cooks — all of them together — do the work to make our successful public schools a reality. I want to support this critical work because I believe public schools maintain our democracy and create a bridge to a lifetime of economic stability for every family. But in these times, I also see that education saves us. Every nurse and doctor, every essential employee, every researcher – everyone working to end this crisis and sustain us while we get through it – they started out as a child in a classroom. Their ability to think creatively is getting us through this. We don’t know where the investments made in Helena kids today will lead us, but we know those investments won’t be wasted. That’s critical work I want to support.

What do you hope to accomplish in this office?

The work of a trustee is three-fold: set policy, manage the budget, and supervise the Superintendent. I believe that my education and background have prepared me to contribute to these responsibilities. Despite the passage of our last bond, our District continues to face major facilities issues. I believe that I can be a positive force for change and a unifying voice in helping to pass future bonds to address those needs. Finally, as a parent, I am living the reality of the Covid-19 crisis and recognize what it will mean for our students. This is hard for every family, but its hardest for the families who had less support to begin with and exacerbates the inequalities that existed before this spring. That’s a perspective our board needs as we deal with the shadow of this for years to come.

Why should people vote for you?

Effective public schools start with a teacher and a student, but the supports needed to nurture that relationship can stretch all the way to the Legislature. As a parent, a volunteer, and a former statewide newspaper reporter, I’ve seen all angles of what good public schools need and I know that we only get one shot at this.

Luke Muszkiewicz

Why are you running for this office?

Public education is critically important, and I strongly believe in Article X of the Montana Constitution that compels us to “establish a system of education which will develop the full educational potential of each person.” Great schools and empowered young people lead to a vibrant economy and resilient society.

Our educators are the best in the state and our accomplishments speak for themselves. I am thankful to my fellow citizens for their consistent and generous support of Helena Public Schools.

We face numerous challenges – COVID-19, loss of enrollment to East Helena High School, an unsustainable budget – and I believe my experience, expertise, and temperament will help our community overcome these issues.

What do you hope to accomplish in this office?

Our immediate challenge is educating and supporting our children throughout this pandemic, which requires ingenuity, patience, and a lot of hard work and long hours. Balancing health, safety, and educational opportunity will remain our core struggle into the foreseeable future.

We have hired and empowered a wonderful superintendent in Dr. Tyler Ream. I am thankful for his commitment to serve and excited about the energy and ideas he brings to our district. He seeks to understand and leads in order to serve others. As trustees, we must help him understand the expectations of our community and provide the resources and feedback he needs to move beyond our immediate operational challenges and take our district to the next level.

We have faced our budget challenge head-on by developing a 5-year budget forecast that allows us to model the future based upon a variety of enrollment projections, staffing decisions, and revenue assumptions. We must adjust to decreasing high school enrollment while minimizing loss of opportunity for our students. We must reduce or workforce as needed in a fair, transparent, and dignified manner. We must reconcile the imperative to recruit and retain the finest educators in the state with the limitations of the local, state, and federal funding that we receive. Our expenses cannot grow faster than our revenue – we must act wisely to maintain a sustainable budget.

We have opened three new schools on-time and on-budget, and by the end of the summer, we will have completed security and technology updates at all of our schools. But we must continue to invest – our high schools are in dire need, and we still have aging middle and elementary buildings as well. We must adopt ongoing procedures to assess our needs and work with our community to make plans for continued investment in a responsible manner that does not put undue burden on our local taxpayers, for whom we must remain grateful.

Why should people vote for you?

In my first three years on the board, I have made mistakes and I’ve learned a lot. I am humbled by the dedication and wisdom of my fellow trustees and the two extraordinary superintendents I have had the opportunity to work alongside.

I am thankful for the educators who’ve confided in me what they need, what made them smile, and the fears that keep them up at night.

I am excited for the next time I get to read a book to a class, meet with a parent council, or hand a graduating senior their diploma.

I love this work, and serving on the board of trustees is the highlight of my professional life. I am deeply thankful for the opportunity, and I will work hard to sustain your trust and empower the educators who have dedicated their lives to providing a holistic and rigorous education for our children.

Thank you for your consideration.