Rankin Elementary Emerging as Kalispell School District Grows

School district unveils latest elementary boundary changes, looking to buy north property

By Dillon Tabish
An aerial view of the new elementary school in south Kalispell. Courtesy Photo

A century after making history as the first woman elected to Congress, Jeannette Rankin will serve as the namesake of the new elementary school in Kalispell.

The school board unanimously approved naming the new site along Airport Road at its Tuesday meeting, keeping with a local tradition of tabbing Montana luminaries for Kalispell’s elementary facilities. Rankin Elementary is scheduled to open in fall 2018.

Born and raised near Missoula, Rankin became the first woman to hold federal office in the U.S. after Montana voters elected her to the House of Representatives in 1916. The Republican lawmaker championed women’s rights and helped pass the 19th constitutional amendment in 1919, which granted women the right to vote.

“She was a lady before her time,” said Bette Albright, a longtime member of the Kalispell school board and a member of the committee tasked with recommending a name.

More than 100 people submitted 50 individual name submissions to the school district, and the selection committee of 14 people, including school staff, parents and administrators, whittled the list down to three: Rankin, Demersville and Lone Pine.

“Everybody was pleased with the process, and public involvement exceeded expectations,” Kalispell school superintendent Mark Flatau said.

Flatau and others were pleased to select Rankin as the proud namesake of the latest school.

“How can you not support the significance of this woman in Montana history,” he said. “She has a place in history that no one can deny.”

Kalispell unexpectedly selected the name two weeks before Missoula was slated to rename one of its schools after Rankin.

Construction of the new elementary school continues to progress while administrators work their way down a checklist of necessary items. Next up, a school mascot and colors will be selected for Rankin Elementary, and this time the students will have the most say in the process. In the coming months, schools across Kalispell will hold contests to encourage students to design ideas for the new facility. The school board will select the winning mascot and colors by February.

The district is also in the process of organizing staff lineups at each of the schools, and surveys were sent to teachers at the existing five elementary schools to determine preferences for where they would like to work, including the new facility.

Merisa Murray, the principal at Edgerton the last six years, will serve as principal at Rankin Elementary.

“I feel very honored and privileged that I got to have this opportunity to open a new school. I’m very excited,” she said.

“I love the name. I think it’s great.”

The school board fielded a request to name the new school’s gymnasium after the late Gene Boyle, a former beloved educator. The board opted to hold off on the request because the remodeled Flathead High School gymnasium could end up being better suited to bear Boyle’s name, board members said.

The school district has also unveiled a revised proposal for new boundaries for the elementary sites now that a sixth facility is coming online. So-called Option E has debuted on the district’s website with six different zones outlined throughout the city. The district is seeking input from residents on the proposed changes, which would determine where students enroll in the elementary grades throughout Kalispell. The latest proposal follows weeks of public meetings and scoping that led to revisions.

“We think we were able to address the common concerns and themes, and this is our best work,” Flatau said. “Now we want (the public’s) feedback.”

Flatau said the school board could vote on the final boundaries as early as Dec. 12 depending on the amount of input it receives.

“If the input we get is not real significant, we think (the school board) could take action, and sooner is probably better from a planning standpoint,” Flatau said.

Planning for the future is certainly on the minds of administrators as Kalispell continues to grow. The district is approaching an agreement to purchase 12 acres of land on the north end of town for another future elementary school. The land, located along the new Rose Crossing off Whitefish Stage Road, is in the Kalispell North Town Center subdivision and is poised to receive city services and become surrounded by growth in the coming years. The Kalispell school district is working on a deal to buy a section of land for $240,000 using reserve funds. Before the deal is finalized, the district will seek voter approval, and the earliest election could be in February or March.

In recent years, a planning committee that studied the long-term facility needs of Kalispell recommended the school board build two elementary schools, but the board ended up approving a request for only one, which is emerging as Rankin Elementary. Based on current enrollment projections, the district schools will once again reach capacity in five to eight years, according to school officials.

“We’re just being proactive,” Flatau said. “It’s a great investment for our future growth, and you can’t go wrong with the location.”

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