For the first time in more than a decade, the Whitefish School District will have a new superintendent beginning in July.
The district’s board of trustees has selected Kate Orozco from Nebraska to take over the superintendent post after Jerry House’s retirement takes effect at the end of June. House has held the district’s top job for 11 years.
Orozco is currently an associate superintendent with North Platte Public Schools in North Platte, Neb. She was selected out of a field of 22 applicants from 11 states, Pat Jarvi, Whitefish’s school board chair, said. The board interviewed three final candidates – Orozco, Robert Gratz of New Jersey and J.T. Stroder of Texas – before choosing Orozco.
“I felt really honored to be selected and humbled because the selection process in Whitefish, I thought, was pretty grueling,” Orozco said.
Jarvi said she’s confident Orozco is the right choice for Whitefish.
“She certainly seems like a good fit for us,” Jarvi said. “We’re pretty excited about it. She’s very enthusiastic. She’s a good communicator and a good listener.”
Orozco, 51, holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from Gonzaga University in Spokane. Her administrative degree is from the University of Nebraska Kearney. Jarvi said Orozco’s higher degrees are in curriculum, instruction and leadership, which are all vital areas of expertise for a superintendent.
“She’s had approximately 20 years of classroom experience in addition to her supervisory experience, so she has a lot of practical knowledge,” Jarvi said. “We were impressed with her background.”
When Orozco begins in July, she will immediately be greeted with several pressing issues, not the least of which is declining enrollment. As a portion of school funding is based on enrollment, Jarvi said the new superintendent will be thrust into a difficult budget situation.
“We’re trying to provide the same services if not more than we have done in the past with slightly less staff and slightly less money, so that’s always a concern,” Jarvi said.
Whitefish voters approved two operational levies – one for elementary and one for high school – on May 3, which Jarvi says helps ease some of the budget strain.
Also, there is still a push within the community to give the high school a thorough makeover. House, the outgoing superintendent, has placed high priority on updating the antiquated facility.
“That’s an interesting challenge I’ll be inheriting,” Orozco said.
Orozco had never visited the Flathead before arriving for her interview, but she’s familiar with Montana and, having grown up in Wyoming, she feels a kinship with the Rocky Mountain West. She said she was impressed with the people she met while visiting Whitefish.
“I had a chance to visit with folks and my impression is that these people are just truly dedicated to their children and they’re working hard to find a leader who will serve their children well,” she said.
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