Kalispell, Columbia Falls School Districts Search for New Superintendent

Two of the Flathead Valley’s largest school districts are in the midst of filling vacancies for their top administrator as turnover rates remain high across the state

By Denali Sagner
Buses are parked at Columbia Falls High School on Aug. 26, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

After the resignation of their superintendents, two of the Flathead Valley’s largest school districts, Kalispell School District #5 and Columbia Falls School District #6, are moving ahead in the search for a new top administrator.

The Kalispell Public Schools Board of Trustees on March 21 approved the resignation of Superintendent Micah Hill, who is set to become the head of the Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) this summer, and agreed to a tentative timeline for the search for Hill’s replacement.

“I write to inform you of my decision to resign from my position as Superintendent of Kalispell Public Schools, effective June 30, 2023,” Hill wrote in his resignation letter to the board. “After 22 years of service to this district I have come to the difficult conclusion that it is time for me to move on to new opportunities and challenges.”

Under the recently approved search timeline, the Kalispell school board will engage local stakeholders through surveys and focus groups in March and early April to gather a better understanding of what the community is seeking in a superintendent, data points that the school board will be able to use when reviewing applicants in mid to late April.

“We plan to have a pretty broad reach with that because we want to be transparent and get the community involved,” Kalispell Board Chair Sue Corrigan told the Beacon.

A motion to hire a firm to help the school board search for a new superintendent failed at the March 21 meeting in a 5-6 vote, setting the district apart from others in the region that employed recruiting firms in their superintendent searches in recent months. Corrigan said that the motion ultimately failed due to the high cost of hiring a recruiting firm, and that the board will be assisted instead by the Kaleva Law Office in Missoula, a group of attorneys that has worked with Kalispell Public Schools in the past.

The board hopes to complete screening and background checks of candidates between April 12 and 17 and select finalists by April 18. It then hopes to conduct finalist interviews beginning May 2, and ratify the contract of a new superintendent by May 9.

The Columbia Falls School Board — which began the process of replacing current superintendent Dave Wick earlier this year after Wick announced his retirement in January — has narrowed down 11 initial applicants to four semi-finalists.

The board at a March 23 special meeting reviewed interview tapes with six candidates, who were evaluated using a matrix tool before being narrowed down to four semi-finalists. The board will interview the semi-finalists via Zoom on April 6 before selecting two to three finalists. The finalists will visit Columbia Falls to meet with staff, students and community groups on April 11 and will be interviewed in person on April 12. Columbia Falls School Board Chair Jill Rocksund said that the board hopes to have a new superintendent chosen by April 12.

GR Recruiting, a national firm that assists school districts with superintendent and principal searches, is working with the district as it moves through the hiring process. Rocksund said that GR Recruiting has been “extremely thorough.”

Kalispell and Columbia Falls have joined an unprecedented number of school districts across Montana seeking to fill superintendent vacancies this year. As of March 27, there were 16 superintendent vacancies in Montana, according to School Administrators of Montana, a professional association for the state’s public school administrators. Eleven additional superintendent vacancies for the 2023-24 school year have already been filled across the state.

According to data from Rob Watson, executive director of School Administrators of Montana, superintendent turnover rates have risen in Montana in recent years, a trend that is set to continue this year. The state saw a 16.5% superintendent turnover rate in the 2019-20 school year, 22.3% in 2020-21 and 25.9% in 2021-22.

“So far in 2022/23 we know of at least 40 superintendents who are leaving their current position. This would put us on track to hit 25% range again for 2022/23,” Watson wrote in an email to the Beacon.

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