Whitefish is welcoming back students for a new school year this week, and among the new faces walking the halls will be Heather Davis Schmidt, the new superintendent for the district.
Davis Schmidt, a former teacher and administrator, is replacing Kate Orozco, who stepped down after four years in Whitefish.
School board members touted Davis Schmidt for her strong background in 21st-century education, including innovative learning programs she helmed as an administrator in Missoula before moving to Whitefish.
As the new school year commences, the Beacon caught up with Davis Schmidt.
Flathead Beacon: What have you set as some of your initial goals?
Heather Davis Schmidt: I have a 100-day entry plan and I plan to provide my analysis and findings at our October school board session. My goal with that is twofold. First, I want to build relationships within the community and with the stakeholders. I really want to get to know the families, the students, the staff, the community members. I want to get to know the community leaders in the public sector as well as the private sector. I want to understand the vision and goals of the community. In other words, what is it we want for our community? What do we see as values and what do we want from our education system? Because I think that my role is to reflect the community’s values and interests in our school system. The second goal is to really dig into the documents and see what’s been going on and understand the history of where we’ve come from, so I can fully understand where we want to go forward.
Beacon: As in most communities, there is a lot of passion in Whitefish when it comes to schools. What’s your strategy for handling divisive debates about how schools should be run?
Davis Schmidt: I consider that an opportunity. It’s always a collaborative process and together we do much better than we do individually. And so I think it’s really about bringing the community together in a systematic way where everyone feels that their voice is heard and in the end we come to a consensus about what we want our schools to be. That doesn’t mean that we can incorporate every aspect of that into everything that we do, especially not right away. But that doesn’t mean that some of these incredible ideas can’t be part of our thinking.
Beacon: What’s your opinion of technology in the classroom? How should schools incorporate smart phones and the latest technology?
Davis Schmidt: I think technology is a tool and there are a lot of skills around technology that every one of us needs to be adept at in this day and age. We have a lot of those things in place in the district, but I think our next great opportunity is truly integrating that into our classrooms. I see us having a great opportunity for developing some communication skill from a programming and coding standpoint. I look at that as a basic skill that our students can learn at a very early age so when they get to high school they can apply those skills. We want to create a knowledge economy here where we are outputting some phenomenal students. There’s a quote that I’ve heard around this community from a student in Whitefish that says, “Imagine if employers and universities had to apply for our students?” I think that really is a cool vision of what we want to become and the skills we want our students to have to get to that.”
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