Randy Cline to Become Kalispell Public Schools Interim Superintendent

The former head of the Frenchtown School District will lead the Kalispell schools next year as the board searches for a permanent top administrator

By Denali Sagner
The entrance to the Kalispell Public Schools office in downtown Kalispell on Sept. 27, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Randy Cline will become the interim superintendent of the Kalispell Public Schools (KPS) for the 2023-24 school year after an unanimous vote by the KPS Board of Trustees on Monday night.

Cline, who has worked in education for 41 years, most recently serving as the superintendent of the Frenchtown School District, will replace current Superintendent Micah Hill after Hill’s departure this summer. Hill in March accepted an offer to become the head of the Missoula County Public Schools.

The board also interviewed Brett Zanto and current KPS Assistant Superintendent Matt Jensen for the interim superintendent position.

Zanto is currently the principal of Capital High School in Helena, where he has led the school since 2013. Previously, he was a teacher in the Bozeman School District.

Jensen has been the assistant superintendent in Kalispell for two years, and was previously the superintendent of the Bigfork School District for seven years.

Though attendees during public comment, as well as various board members, lauded Jensen’s skills as an administrator and described him as a top candidate to continue driving the mission of KPS, the board ultimately reached consensus that hiring Cline would allow Jensen to continue his work without disrupting the administrative structure of the district.

“He is going to be dynamic whether he’s in the assistant superintendent role or he’s in the superintendent role,” Trustee Jennifer Sevier said about Jensen. “Let’s let him continue the work he already started.”

“I think we all feel that Matt is exceptional, and he is phenomenal in the job he’s in right now,” Trustee Heather Asher said, adding that Cline’s extensive experience in education could help the district navigate budget and demographic changes, while Jensen and other district administrators focus on specific initiatives born under Hill’s tenure — specifically the transformational education program.

During an interview with the board, Cline recounted his history as a teacher, coach and administrator, which he said endowed him with both critical skills and an appreciation for the many roles that make up a school district ecosystem.

“I know what coaches go through. I know what the athletic directors are going through,” he said. “I know what the bus drivers are going through because I’ve been there, done that.”

The former Frenchtown superintendent also pointed to his experience handling budgets and navigating demographic changes, drawing on his tenure managing the Frenchtown School District after the Smurfit-Stone Container Corp shuttered its massive paper mill in 2010, laying off more than 400 workers in Frenchtown and depleting the local tax base for the public schools.

“My general philosophy is you always keep it as far away from the classroom as you can,” Cline said, discussing budget cuts.

A downsizing of the KPS budget will be inevitable in the next fiscal year after voters rejected yet another high school levy in a district election last week.

Cline retired as superintendent of the Frenchtown School District in June 2020. However, he told the Kalispell School Board on Monday night that he never felt ready to retire, and that he sees leading KPS for one year as the board searches for a permanent superintendent as a capstone in his career.

“I’m setting the stage for the next superintendent of the district,” Cline said.

“We have to put a product out there that the public wants and the public believes in,” he added. “If I’m gonna be here, I’m gonna do a good job.”

“I am very concerned that our district is getting big enough — we have a lot of issues bubbling to the surface right now — they’re not going away. I want somebody who knows their stuff, who has experience with difficult situations in schools,” Board Chair Sue Corrigan said during candidate deliberations.

While trustees were initially split during deliberations, with advocates speaking on behalf of all three candidates, the board ultimately agreed on an administrative structure that allows Jensen to continue carrying out the district’s vision in the assistant superintendent position, while Cline uses his extensive experience as interim superintendent to help KPS navigate a tumultuous year that will involve the hiring of a new superintendent, budgetary changes and continued enrollment growth.

“To me we just need to buy time to find the right person that is focused on work-based learning and transformational learning and to guide our district into the future,” Trustee Jack Fallon said.

Though Cline acknowledged that there may be resistance to bringing in a new superintendent, he emphasized his roots in Kalispell and his commitment to becoming a part of the district community.

“You don’t change for change sake, but you change because change is needed,” Cline said.

“We live here, we pay our taxes here, we voted in the levy election,” he added. “When the interim job came up, I thought, ‘I can do that for them.’”