Gianforte Appoints Whitefish Resident to Charter School Commission

Cathy Kincheloe spent two decades as an educator and manager at charter schools in the Midwest before moving to the Flathead Valley

By Denali Sagner
Governor Greg Gianforte visits Flathead High School in Kalispell for a roundtable discussion with local educators, students and business owners in a discussion about their education and internship programs on April 5, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Whitefish realtor and former charter school educator Cathy Kincheloe will serve on a new commission tasked with approving proposals for publicly funded charter schools in the state of Montana.

Kincheloe, who was recently appointed by Gov. Greg Gianforte, will be one of seven members on the bipartisan commission that was created through the passing of House Bill 562. The bill allows for Montana to establish “community choice” schools, or taxpayer-funded charter schools that are approved and overseen by the statewide commission, as well as a board of trustees that is elected only by teachers and parents at the school.

Kincheloe began her career as a classroom teacher at a charter school in Duluth, Minnesota in 1997, climbing the ranks over the next 20 years to become a school curriculum director and eventually take a position at a charter school management organization. During her time overseeing charter schools in the Midwest, Kincheloe helped to open nine charter schools, an experience she said endowed her with an understanding of the school process and a passion for the charter system. 

“It was just an incredible opportunity,” Kincheloe said. “After experiencing the amount of professional development that was put into teachers, the resources we had, and the number of programs we were able to implement, I fell in love with it.”

The former educator and charter school manager said she applied to serve on the commission because she felt her experience could help the commission, and Montana, successfully execute the new program.

“I’ve done this work, and I know what it takes to do it really well. My lens coming in is just making sure that schools that get approved have strong leadership and the ability to bring in funding,” Kincheloe said.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here for Montana. I, myself, am a believer in public education, but I’m also a believer in choice and competition,” she added. “Charter schools offer a choice but they also help that competition aspect, make the public schools better.”

While Gianforte and the Montana Office of Public Instruction have characterized the new public charter system as a vehicle to increase educational choices for Montana families, public education advocates sued the state in June to block the law over what they described as numerous legal and constitutional issues. The suit took issue with “community choice” schools’ closed school board elections, as well as the funneling of public funding to schools that are exempt from the educational laws outlined in the Montana Constitution.

Responding to the concerns voiced by public education advocates, Kincheloe said, “There’s always concerns when it starts. It’s something new, it’s publicly funded. So there’s always going to be concerns.”

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