Every so often, a moment fills you with gratitude for living in this town. Like during one of our incredible summer festivals, when you pause to take in the blue sky, the buildings, the crowds and the music all in one deep breath.
Another such moment came during last week’s school board candidate forum. So struck was I by the caliber of the candidates sitting before us that tears could have easily filled my eyes had I let them.
Here were five incredibly accomplished people, all with very busy lives already, wanting to freely give of their time and expertise to help make our public schools the best they can be.
All are either teachers or former teachers. None has an ax to grind. All are articulate, well-educated, sincere, well-intentioned.
Butte is a fortunate community indeed.
I was especially struck by how each would bring a unique combination of knowledge and experience to the board:
Linda Sorini Granger is herself a product of Butte schools and now a mom with two children at East Middle School. As a teacher/department head of accounting and business technology programs at Montana Tech’s College of Technology, she regularly interacts with Butte High graduates and would bring valuable expertise in the curriculum area as well as ongoing, first-hand experience with Butte schools and students.
Scott Risser would also be a link to Montana Tech. He’s an assistant professor of psychology and said his academic focus is evaluating research on kids’ development, on topics such as bullying. He joked that he went into psychology to try and learn what makes high school students tick after having taught them. His daughter enters kindergarten next year, and he said she was a main impetus for his deciding to run.
Debbie Shea spent 26 years teaching in the Butte public schools and during that time was also active in teachers’ union issues. She served in the Montana Legislature for multiple terms and sat on several key committees that dealt with how public schools are funded through the state. Although she’s now executive director of the Montana Mining Association and her children are grown, her ties to Butte education run deep.
Lee Phillips regularly interacts with Butte teachers and students as director of the Butte Public Library, and she’d like to strengthen that bridge between the two. She’s served on a school board before, in Livingston, and also has 10 years of teaching experience including on-line courses. She’s a big proponent of making the most of new information technologies and of Butte schools securing more funding by going after grants.
Cindy Stergar runs Butte’s Community Health Center, a nonprofit with a $10 million annual budget. She’s got an extensive background on health insurance, a hot topic for Butte schools right now, along with broad management and teaching experience, including partnering with Butte schools on health and safety pilot programs. With her children just about out of Butte schools (her youngest is a junior), she feels now is the right time to serve.
See what I mean? They all have the makings of excellent school board members, bringing a wealth of job and life experience. I hope those who aren’t elected May 4 will consider running again next time.
And I wish more people could have attended last Tuesday’s forum, for I’m just scratching the surface of what we roughly 30 audience members heard. The Butte Education Foundation did a great job coming up with questions that covered all the bases and let the candidates’ personalities come through.
Foundation members hope to hold a forum before every school board election, and I highly recommend going next time. It may not make voting any easier — I wish there were five open seats this time, rather than two — but you’ll be sure to walk away with hope for the future leadership of our public school district.
And that’s a good thing.
— Roberta (Bobbi) Stauffer is The Standard’s opinion page editor. She may be reached at 496-5514 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.