The Stevensville School Board has a total of five trustee positions open this election cycle.
The Star asked the candidates to submit information about themselves to better inform the public. Here are their responses in their own words.
Three people are running for two three-year elementary/high school trustee positions: Cathi Cook, Sarah Armijo and Jesse Reeves.
Over the last sixteen years, I have been fortunate to volunteer throughout this community. I do this both to learn and educate others so that I may support our families. The relationships that have been made are priceless to me. I feel I have earned your trust and have proven to be a voice for you. This past year has been very challenging and I would be honored to continue to be a part of the healing. Both our students and this community deserve to move forward. My agenda will never be small or singly focused. I will strive to listen to both sides, do the research and then make fact-based decisions.
My name is Cathi Cook and I have been a resident of Stevensville for 25 years. My husband Mike and I own an industrial fabrication business and we have 3 children. Mike and our sons, Cody and Casey, graduated from Stevensville High School and our daughter Kylie will graduate in 2022. I have been active with youth sports in Stevensville for many years. I have coached soccer, basketball, baseball and softball and I was President of the Stevensville Youth Soccer association for 9 years. Currently, I am staying busy as a referee for youth soccer.
Being a Stevensville School Board Trustee for the last 15 years has been an ongoing learning experience for me. I have participated on the trustee committees including facility, negotiations, policy, resource, calendar, and also the athletic improvement committee. I was involved with the building project that was completed in 2011 and I have also worked on the district’s 20 year plan, the bond elections, and the current building project that is expected to be completed in December. I have served the board as chairperson or vice-chairperson for twelve years. Education, like so many other things in our world today, is constantly evolving. We are very fortunate to have the Montana School Board Association to provide information and guidance to our district and school board. Without their help this past year, many districts would have been lost with the many changes in policy and funding.
I have several reasons for running for another term as a trustee. The first reason is the students. They are always the top priority. Our kids have been through so many challenges this past year and I want to continue to be a part of the plan to get all students back in our classrooms. We have some catch up to do from our time with distance learning, quarantines and the distractions of construction. We want to make sure that we have our staff in the right places and everything is done to recover and excel every day.
We have had division in our district recently that has come from the different beliefs of our staff and community. During this unprecedented time, we need to continue to concentrate on what is best for our kids so that they can receive a great education and work together to have a supportive place for our staff. There are a lot of voices with different opinions that want to be heard and we will continue to listen. As trustees, we have to make difficult decisions that affect many people. But we have to make sure that we are prepared and have the information that is essential.
We have an incredible construction project happening thanks to the support of our community. There are new and remodeled buildings that will boost the high school experience and add opportunities for our secondary students. We will also have new and remodeled classrooms for our elementary students and improved safety measures throughout the campus. Stevensville Schools will be an amazing place for our children.
During the current legislative year, there have been many changes that will affect funding, district policies and procedures. A school budget always has its challenges and it is the responsibility of a trustee to stay informed so they can contribute and make decisions for our school.
I am very proud of our school district and I want to contribute my time to help improve the education and experience for our students, in a safe facility for our staff, and a welcoming campus for our community.
Jesse Reeves (did not respond)
Four people are running for two one-year elementary/high school positions: Stephanie Esch, Kris McKoy, Dan Mullan and Frances “Frannie” Schmitz.
• Parent of 3 children in the Stevensville School district.
• Lived and worked in the Stevensville area for 13 years.
• Bachelor of Social Work (BSW from University of Montana)
o Applicable skills from Social Work work history: Engaged listening, critical analysis, resource management, problem solving.
• Ranch Manager at Kootenai Springs Ranch for 13 years
o Applicable skills from Ranch Management: I am proficient in budgeting and resource management, working with construction contractors, problem solving, managing insurance policies, managing and supporting a staff, vetting various vendors and services, maintaining legal compliance for land usage, licenses, permits and other items.
• Served in the Stevensville Schools Parent Teacher Club (PTC) for 6 years.
o In PTC I have: Established our organization as a 501c3, served as a volunteer, president, secretary and treasurer, collaboratively organized fundraisers, dispersed funds, managed bank accounts, staffed volunteers for school functions, planned, scheduled, and communicated with parents and school personnel.
• My personal goal as a Trustee will be to promote positive communication between the board, staff and community.
• I am task oriented and a hard worker. I will see my commitment through earnestly and thoughtfully.
Now is an important time for a strong and thoughtful school board. I am eager to partner with board members to meet that end. I am ready to dive in and learn the intricate protocols and aspects of the school that are vital to being an engaged school board member, and I want to listen deeply to our staff and community. The skill sets I bring to the table from my work and volunteer history provide me with a strong foundation for the work that needs to be done.
I am a fifth generation Montanan, born and raised in Northwest Montana. I relocated to Stevensville from the Bozeman area in 2016 with my wife. We have two children who attend Stevensville Middle School and are active in school and community programs. I am a graduate of Montana State University with an engineering degree. I have managed the Montana division of a commercial design and construction firm for the past five years. Many factors played into our decision to pick Stevensville as our new home. My wife, Erica, has deep roots in Stevensville and the Bitterroot Valley. Her father is a 1968 graduate of Stevensville High School. She has fond childhood memories of visiting her grandmother’s farm at the southern edge of Stevensville. Along with these roots, one of the primary reasons we chose Stevensville was the quality of education provided by the school district.
Why do you want to run?
I come from a family of teachers. I’ve always had a calling to get involved in my local public school to support the teachers and students. In Bozeman, I was on the planning committee for a bond campaign and project for our small rural school district. I’ve coached youth football and basketball teams. I volunteered at Hyalite Elementary in Bozeman with their STEM club teaching students real world applications that matched up with their STEM education curriculum.
What experience do you bring?
I am running to retain the school board trustee position I was appointed to fill this past October. I stepped up to fill that open position during an extremely challenging time. On top of the ongoing pandemic and its associated challenges, our school is in the middle of the largest school bond project ever undertaken in Stevensville School District’s history. This project is a huge step and commitment by our community towards modernizing our schools. My 23 years of experience designing and constructing all variations of commercial construction projects, including dozens of school projects, has been extremely valuable in helping guide this project forward successfully. I’ve leveraged those past experiences to drive value into this bond project. I commit to our community that I will continue to hold our common expectation of being responsible with our hard earned dollars when making decisions about our facilities. I absolutely want to see this project through to completion.
Biggest issue facing your school?
Schools including ours are faced with many challenges with a lot of them stemming from funding shortfalls. Our school is challenged by ever increasing operating costs with funding that rarely keeps pace. My experience in managing a successful business gives me the tools and experience to make educated, cost-effective decisions with our limited funds. We need to continue our mission to provide quality facilities paired with our first class teachers and administration so we can continue to provide the best education and opportunities for our students. I am committed to always optimize and leverage the resources we have to their fullest. I would appreciate your vote to retain me as a trustee.
Why do you want to run for the office of school trustee?
I would like the opportunity to put my 34 years of experience in public education to work with the school board in moving forward after a challenging 2020-2021 school year.
1) To ensure that the school board provides and supports meaningful educational and co-curricular opportunities in order for students to successfully transition to their next step in life; be it family life, world of work, military service, or some form of post-secondary education.
2) To ensure that the school board works to create and maintain a positive healthy working environment for all staff.
3) To ensure that administration and staff members are held accountable to the highest professional standards.
What experience do you bring to the position of trustee?
Qualifications and Background:
• Resident of the Stevensville community for 36 years
• 34 years of public school education experience.
• 26 years as an administrator and instructor in the Stevensville School System, Junior high/middle school principal, Assistant high school principal, Classroom instructor, High school football coach, President of Stevensville Teachers Association
• Served eight years as a classroom instructor at Victor Public Schools
• Elected to serve as a trustee on Victor School Board for two terms
• Retired First Sgt. Montana Army National Guard
• Raised three sons who attended Stevensville Public Schools grades k-12
As a parent of three children who attended Stevensville Schools, I can identify with parents and guardians and understand their needs and frustrations. As a former school board trustee in Victor, I understand the role of school boards and the responsibility that comes with being a trustee.
What are the biggest issues facing Stevensville School District?
• Identifying and recouping students educational losses during the 2020-2021 school year
• Addressing low staff moral that erodes educational effectiveness
• Addressing staff turnover
Having been very active in the Stevensville schools now for 7 years, it is time for me to run for school trustee and see if I can be more effective in a new role. I have 3 stepchildren who graduated from Stevensville and, after this school year, 2 biological children who have graduated from Stevensville as well. My youngest son will be a freshman next year, 2021-2022.
Upon moving to Stevensville, I signed up to help with class parties and help teachers in any way possible. I also started attending the PTC (Parent Teacher Club) meetings and worked on the committee for TAW (Teacher Appreciation Week). After a couple of years I got involved with the Stevensville Booster Club and became Secretary. At the start of the 2018-2019 school year, I became Booster President and still hold that position. It was about this time what I decided to start attending as many Board of Trustees Meetings as possible in the Stevensville School District and to date I have missed only a few.
While attending these meetings I have gained a greater understanding of the work that goes into being a trustee. I hope to be a part of that process as a school trustee and do my part to assist in a necessary process, though sometimes hard, to strengthen our school district. I hope to help facilitate better transparency between the school district and community while working to strengthen the relationship between the trustees and school staff.
Stevensville School District, in my opinion, is the hub for our community and the future of our community is within the walls for that building as well as the facilities around it. It is in the best interest of our community, students and future work force to invest our time and resources to ensure our students have every opportunity to be the best they wish to be. I am grateful for the support I have received as I work as a community volunteer to let our students as well as our staff know they are appreciated and loved.
Four people are running for one three-year high school position representing Lone Rock: Brianna Gum, Jennifer Gunterman, Rachel Lewis and Leda Turnage.
I was born and raised in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley and have been a resident of the Stevensville area for the past 14 years. After graduating from Hamilton High School, I attended Montana State University and earned a Bachelor of Science in Education with minors in Science and Art. I taught middle school in a variety of positions including English, Mathematics, Science, and Title Reading. Currently I am a stay-at-home mother with two children in the Stevensville School District.
While living in Stevensville, I have been deeply involved in the youth of this community. We have organized a youth basketball program that has had over 40 elementary families involved over the past five years. My role within this organization has been recruitment, staffing, marketing, communication, fundraising and general oversite of all teams and tournaments. Throughout the years I have also coached and volunteered in our established baseball and soccer programs. Whenever possible, I have spent time volunteering in my children’s classrooms both in the Lone Rock School District and in the Stevensville School District and have also volunteered on the Stevensville Athletic Improvement Committee.
My motivation in seeking a School Board position lies on two fronts. The challenges of this past year have been herculean. The divisiveness that has been plaguing our school and community has only grown. I feel that by being on the board, I can use my understanding of different facets of the school system, plus my community outreach techniques to help in decreasing, if not eliminating this divide. There is a large gap between our business owners, the communities of Lone Rock and Stevensville, our families and our residents. I would like to do all I can to help bridge that gap and have Stevensville Schools be the rock that holds our community together. Within that goal lies my second reason for wanting to run. When your athletic and extracurricular activities are successful, the community’s support of the school has a lot more success as well. Not only does improving the performance of our activities offered by the school help our community as a whole, it helps our students and families. The team building, social skills and general health and well-being of our students, not to mention graduation rates, overall GPAs, and future success of our students are all improved by successful student involvement in extracurricular activities.
I have been involved in the school system for the majority of my life. As a student, teacher, volunteer, and parent, I have seen many aspects and dimensions of the public education system and feel this experience is well suited to serve the students, faculty, administration, school board and the greater community at large at an influential and impactful level. Thank you for your consideration. Go Jackets!
I am a candidate for the Lone Rock Representative to the Stevensville School Board. Throughout the years of volunteering in my children’s schools, I have always strived to support the students and teachers. Being a part of the Stevensville School Board as the Lone Rock district representative would allow me to support the teachers and students in a whole new way. I want to serve my community and be a part of the conversation—not just an observer.
I am a University of Montana graduate with over 15 years of experience in the Childcare field. I was the Director for a Before and Afterschool Care program for low-income children, Coordinator of a Headstart classroom, and was a Community Counselor with Au Pair in America. I learned a lot over the years while working with very diverse families and children from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. This experience lends itself to helping me to understand the needs of our diverse community.
My two children are Lone Rock School graduates who currently attend Stevensville High School. I have been an active volunteer with the Lone Rock PTM & Booster Clubs, Rocket Vision 2020 committee, and many classroom and club projects. Our family loved being a part of the Lone Rock School community and being able to support Lone Rock families as they transition to Stevensville High School is something that would mean a lot to me. We have been very fortunate to also have some wonderful teachers at Stevensville High School. The dedication that they have shown throughout the last two school years has been amazing.
In an effort to be more aware of what is going on at the High School I have attended many of the School Board meetings in the last year. I feel that there needs to be greater transparency in those meetings so that the community and families are aware of the issues facing our school system. I have been troubled to discover that many of the teachers and staff do not feel supported by their administration and board. As a result, I am concerned that we may lose our best teachers to other schools in the valley. We need to do what we can to keep the best teachers here to educate our children.
We need a school board that can come together to make important decisions for our school district and to lead our schools into the future. Our schools have come through a very challenging time and as we look to the future it is important to make sure we have mental health and educational support for our students and teachers. As a board it is also important to maintain the budget, complete the extensive construction projects and continue moving forward to making Stevensville the best school district it can be.
I am actively involved in both the Lone Rock and Stevensville communities. I am prepared to serve the families of both by serving on the School Board. I will do this by learning the board processes, listening to the community’s needs, and working with the board to make decisions to improve our schools.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Leda Turnage, who is also running for this position. I’ve chosen to endorse her, rather than run against her.
As a parent and legal professional in the area of family law, I am uniquely qualified to hold a seat on the school board. I have taken the bench as non-attorney substitute Justice of the Peace while residing in Sheridan County Montana. My experience on the bench was an invaluable learning experience, as this is where I found not only my career path, but passion for helping people. It was also where I came to know Austin Knudsen, our current Attorney General and mentored under Judge Gregory Mohr (ret.) I am a trained paralegal and mediator. I am proud to help families through my employer as both a paralegal and a motivational divorce and co-parenting coach. My husband and I share a large, blended, multi-generational household here in Lone Rock. I love working in the legal field. I also enjoy gardening, and spending free time with my family. Our family raises animals, both for self sufficiency and for recreation.
I have worked hard throughout my legal career to help parents work through issues cooperatively, in the best interest of the children. Children are truly our greatest asset. I have never met a parent who hasn’t gazed down at their newborn son or daughter and loved them to infinity and beyond. Parents are truly the best advocates for their own children.
Most people entering the field of education do so for the right reasons. As individuals, we are apt to have different views and beliefs. Some of these differences would amount to the width of a human hair, others would equal the Grand Canyon. Regardless, we all value the children in our community and want to do what is in their best interests.
I recognize that my viewpoints and goals will not resonate with every voter. That is an expected outcome. However, my ultimate goal is to equal the playing field, and equality is something that should resonate with everyone reading this letter.
Children deserve to have their beliefs and values respected and honored regardless of the families personal beliefs. All too often, teachers in positions of respect and authority have marked bias, and take advantage of their position to spread their own individual ideologies. As a parent, I am firmly against teachers and staff being allowed to propagandize children and punish them for their own family’s beliefs or values.
Schools should always be a place of exploration and learning. Students should indeed be challenged to learn new ideas. However, parents have the right to decline to have their child exposed to extreme materials they do not approve of either politically or philosophically. While I understand that some exposure to ideas we oppose is good for personal growth, parents have the right to say no to their children being exposed to information they find harmful or disturbing.
Both religion and politics are necessarily touched upon at school, usually in history and sometimes when discussing current events. The school district and the educators it employs should be unbiased and impartial in the presentation of materials related to both politics and religion.
Too often students are subjected to political “victory dances” by teachers, which demonstrate the teachers own personal and political biases. This causes shame and distress for students whose families share beliefs that differ from the teacher.
There is a power imbalance that naturally occurs in a classroom. Teachers are the authority and students must obey them. That means not telling a teacher “no” without repercussion. Teachers should not be taking advantage of their authority to question students or attempt to indoctrinate them.
Persons in a position of authority have a unique and distinct responsibility to not abuse the authority granted to them. Teachers are an authority figure for students and should be held accountable by the district and parents for any overreach. Students are still learning about the world and their inalienable rights. Grooming of student is grooming, regardless of purpose and it is unacceptable. Teachers and schools can do better.
Freedom is universal, and it applies to everyone. Freedom is the only thing in this world that is truly “one size fits all.” All parents and students have a right to their beliefs, both religious and political. Teachers are presenters of information, not triers of fact. Students, regardless of their race, color, creed, religion, gender identity, or other differentiating factor have a right to learn in a setting that allows freedom of thought, freedom of belief and respect for them as individuals
Parents have a constitutional right to parent their children. No parent should be forced to allow their child to be exposed to materials that do no align with their belief system. No parent should be forced to inoculate their child with a vaccine that they believe is dangerous or unnecessary to access the education guaranteed to every child. Fair play. Good sportsmanship. We need to respect each other, even if we have different viewpoints. This is America, after all. We should act like it.
1. An individuals constitutional right to parent their child.
2. Parents having the right to opt in or opt out of controversial educational offerings that do not align with their belief system.
3. School district rules being reviewed for compliance with both the US and Montana Constitutions.
4. Students being taught about the Constitution of both the United States and the State of Montana, the history of the Founding Fathers and the Bill of Rights in a non partisan manner.
5. Banning partisan attacks by employees of the District.
6. Evaluating current educational offerings and researching the possibility of offering both progressive and traditional classes, wherein students can receive education that is respectful and not offensive to their family’s beliefs.
7. Students being taught critical thinking skills and how to research and develop their own opinions – instead of being instructed in the educators personal beliefs.
8. Students being encouraged to engage in tolerance of all other students or individuals within in the school setting, regardless of color, gender identity, religion, while every student is entitled to believe in any religious or political ideology they so choose.
9. Freedom in general.
10. Teachers being restricted from outright attacks on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights or the Founding Fathers, based on their personal or partisan beliefs.
11. The school district being prohibited from interfering with the constitutional rights of students and their parents.
12. The school district being prohibited from forcing or coercing parents to have their children vaccinated against COVID to gain in person admission to the school.
13. Prohibiting the distribution of biased partisan news media to students without distributing the opposing viewpoint as well.
14. Exposing students to expanded and/or graphic sex education; or (trans)gender studies without parental review of materials and consent.
15. Prohibiting the promotion of “Cancel Culture” and “Woke Mob” mentalities within the educational system.
I encourage each and every citizen to vote for what they believe in. We are all free Americans.