Michele Paine has been appointed interim principal at Flathead High School for the upcoming academic year, temporarily resolving a dilemma that abruptly emerged after the incoming principal stepped down amid plagiarism claims.
The Kalispell Public Schools Board of Trustees on July 11 voted 8-1 in favor of naming Paine the high school’s top administrator for the 2017-18 school year. The school district will restart the hiring process for a new full-time principal in January.
The district is also seeking an interim replacement for Paine, who has served as assistant principal since 2011. The assistant principal job is posted as a one-year position, and the plan is to hire internally from the district due to the posting date. According to school officials, the candidate would be able to return to a teaching position for the 2018-19 year.
The school board weighed three options to address the principal vacancy: using a co-principal approach that would divide the administrative duties among the three assistant principals, Paine, Mike Lincoln and Bryce Wilson; appoint an outside interim principal, recommended to be Mike Nicosia, the former longtime superintendent of the Columbia Falls school district; or appoint an internal interim principal, with Kalispell school superintendent Mark Flatau recommending Paine.
“Michele knows the staff and students at Flathead and has worked many years with the current (assistant principals),” Flatau said in a memo to the board. “This would provide a smooth transition allowing the current administration and staff to hit the road running and not lose any momentum.”
Trustees Bette Albright, Anna Marie Bailey, Jon Endresen, Lance Isaak, Mark Kornick, Frank Miller, Diane Morton-Stout and Mary Tepas voted in favor of Paine. Mary Ruby was opposed, saying she preferred allowing the three assistant principals to share administrative responsibilities. Trustees Joe Brenneman and Jack Fallon were absent.
The decision settles a chaotic situation, at least temporarily, in the wake of John Blackman’s sudden resignation days before he was slated to formally take over as Flathead’s new principal. Blackman, a former school administrator in Idaho who was selected by a 16-member committee for the Flathead position, rescinded his acceptance of the job in late June after the Kalispell school district discovered that most of his introductory letter to FHS staff members was copied from another principal’s letter.
Blackman, who previously declined to comment to the Beacon, told the Idaho Mountain Express, a newspaper in Ketchum, Idaho, that he used a letter he found on the website for Strawberry Elementary School in Santa Rosa, California, as a “template” and inserted his own biographical details.
“It was not original,” he told the Mountain Express in a story published June 30. “But I didn’t plagiarize anybody else’s academic information, facts or philosophies.”
A Google search using words from Blackman’s letter turned up several principal letters across the U.S. that are nearly identical with individual biographical details.
Blackman told the Ketchum newspaper he plans to remain in the Wood River Valley but will not return to work for Blaine County School District, where he has served in various roles, including assistant superintendent, since 1984.
Following Blackman’s resignation in Kalispell, the school district reached out to the hiring committee’s second choice, Tres Genger, principal at Lindbergh High School in Renton, Washington. Genger turned down the position.
At a school board meeting in late June, as trustees weighed options for resolving the matter, Paine and Wilson both expressed frustration in the hiring process. Paine, who was one of four finalists for the position, said she was disheartened by being overlooked, and Wilson said he felt left out of the process.
Paine, who has served various roles in the Kalispell school district since 1998 and was named assistant principal of the year in 2016 by a statewide association, acknowledged her concerns and frustrations in an interview with the Beacon but expressed excitement about moving forward and helping lead Flathead through the upcoming year, which will see a multi-year construction project break ground at the campus.
“There have been challenges with the process, for sure,” she said. “Hopefully we can all learn from that and next time around it can be done a little bit better.”
“For now, I’m excited about the new challenge (of being interim principal),” she added. “There has been a whole lot of uncertainty in the last month, and people need to know the direction, and they need to know what that leadership team looks like and who is going to move things forward. I think people are feeling reassured now, or at least relieved.”
Whether Paine could or would apply for the full-time position in January remains to be seen. School trustees have expressed concerns about an interim administrator applying for the permanent principal position. The school board will discuss additional details of the hiring process at a future meeting.
“Going into it, I agreed that if the board decides an interim can’t apply, I’m OK with that,” Paine said. “We need a leader right now, and I’m willing to do that.”
“I enjoy what I do,” she added. “Being an assistant principal is a great job, too. Getting experience as a principal will be a little bit different. Wherever that leads me after this year, who knows?”