Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Flathead Beacon: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your relationship to the Kalispell Public Schools?
Jinnifer Mariman: I’m a mom of two elementary school children, and my husband and I both own businesses in downtown Kalispell. We’ve been super appreciative of the schools and the teachers and the leadership. We’re really involved in the community, and so we view this as one of the more ultimate ways to give back. It’s super meaningful to us because our children are so young, and they are just starting their educational journey. So being able to be involved in the leadership of that is really important to us. We’ve been really pleased with the leadership in the schools, and the teachers, and we want to do everything we can to support them and support the schools and the teachers and the kids going forward.
FB: Why did you decide to run for the school board?
JM: What motivated me to run is just, it really is an opportunity to give back. It’s something that we have a really vested interest in being parents of young children. Also, I feel like I have some things that I can offer that would create some different strengths on the board. I’m a lawyer. I think that’s helpful. I have longtime board experience working on nonprofits or serving for nonprofits. I have good board experience. And the other thing is just how connected we are to this community. My husband’s serving on the longterm growth planning committee for School District Five. He’s serving on the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce childcare initiative committee, he’s chairing that up. We’ve been involved in a lot of this stuff, so when we heard one of the incumbents wasn’t going to run again, that’s when my interest was piqued, and seeing an opportunity to bring some skills to the board, and bring my background and experience. But ultimately, to serve as a trustee of our education system and look at issues thoughtfully and consider them and make the best decisions we can.
FB: What will your main priorities be if elected?
JM: Obviously, one of the biggest issues that comes to my mind is we need to hire a superintendent. We’ve been really fortunate to have Micah leading us, but finding the next superintendent is really important, finding someone that is a good fit for our Kalispell community and for what we and what the board of trustees have identified as certain goals and priorities for the school system going forward. I think the way the school system is designed is that you have your trustees who are giving direction for growth and goals and priorities. While you might lose a really key person, those remain the same. So finding a superintendent that will continue those efforts and hopefully bring some of his or her own ideas to the table of how we can make our schools better.
The other big one is just growth and being smart about it. Seeing where the growth is actually occurring within this valley, because we generally have a sense that there’s tremendous growth occurring in this valley, which is true. But how it affects the education system depends on where that growth is occurring and where that creates critical paths for our school system, both in the elementary, middle school and high school.
The other thing that we’ve really enjoyed is the connections to the community. That’s something that, as far as a vision or something that I hope to help with on the school board, is creating connections and opportunities for the community to be involved with schools, and vice versa for students to have opportunities in the community. [At the McGarvey Law Firm] I’ve hosted a School District 5 high school intern for two semesters now, two different ones, and it’s great. These kids, they come in and they’re interested in being lawyers and working in a law firm. I remember being in their shoes, and I had no clue what it was like, working in a law firm. I was just a kid from Libby and my mom was a teacher and my dad worked for the Forest Service. We didn’t have lawyers in our family, and so I had no idea what a law office looked like. So I actually worked in a law office for three summers to just kind of go, wow, what is this like?
FB: What do you think are some changes that need to happen in the district? What are some things you think the school district has done well?
JM: What we’ve seen in the school district and that we are appreciative of is the thoughtful leadership, and even just the strategic planning the school went through in the last year or so, and the transformational learning. Those are really cool things that the school district has really taken and really championed, and are helping push forward. It’s really cool. Those things are unique, especially the transformational learning and the Vo-Ag Center. That’s very unique here. Kids who go to school in the Flathead Valley have an incredibly unique opportunity that you just don’t have throughout the state.
You can tell we try and do a really good job with our facilities, and we try and do the best we can with what we have, and we try and be pretty smart about how we keep those facilities, and how we build new facilities. I think that we’re in a position where we’ve been piecing our facilities together for quite some time, and it’s difficult to do that. I feel like the school has been doing the best they can, but I feel like that’s an area of improvement.
FB: Anything else you’d like to add?
JM: Another thing that would be a goal or something we can improve on, and this is happening throughout the entire valley, and it’s not unique to the school system, but our suicide resources, both for prevention and post-vention. That’s something that myself, as a citizen, partnered up on with our daughter’s early kindergarten teacher. We put together a box, it’s resources for families surviving suicide, and it gets delivered by the chaplain, when he or she goes onto the scene. It’s got information, it’s got comfort care items, it’s got gift cards, it’s got all that stuff. We’ve worked with Ben Dorrington at School District 5. He’s the resource officer directly tied with suicide prevention and post-vention. He’s got a stack of our boxes in his office. We’re under the Nate Chute Foundation, so we can fundraise for the boxes there, and they’re actually providing staff now to put the boxes together. Nate Chute has boxes, all the coroners have boxes. That’s just one small, very small piece to this incredibly complex and tragic puzzle. That would be something with the school board that, as opportunities arise to put an eye on that issue from a board perspective, that’s something I look forward to. It’s horribly tragic that that is something that we have to address and work with, but it is.
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