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Education

Jensen to Become Kalispell Superintendent

The Flathead Valley local and longtime school administrator led the Bigfork School District before joining the Kalispell Public Schools in 2021 as assistant superintendent

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

Kalispell Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Matt Jensen will lead the district as superintendent beginning next school year.

The Kalispell school board on Tuesday night voted unanimously to hire Jensen after interviewing him and Kimberly Fricker, a California-based educator who was previously the superintendent of the Rim of the World Unified School District in San Bernardino County, Calif.

The position is currently held by interim Superintendent Randy Cline, who stepped into the role last summer after the departure of former Superintendent Micah Hill.

Joseph Libby, a third candidate slated to be interviewed by the school board, rescinded his application on Sunday.

Jensen joined the Kalispell Public Schools in 2021 after serving for seven years as the superintendent of the Bigfork School District. He is a 1999 graduate of Flathead High School who holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Montana, a master’s degree in education administration from the University of Phoenix and a superintendent endorsement from the University of Montana. Prior to serving as Bigfork superintendent, Jensen taught history, government and economics in Bigfork and served as an elementary, middle and high school principal in the district.

Board trustees on Tuesday lauded Jensen’s leadership and continued work on Kalispell Public Schools initiatives such as transformational learning and personalized competency-based education.

“Matt sticks out because he’s inspirational. He’s optimistic. He understands transformational learning, [personalized competency-based education], and it’s not just the next educational phase,” trustee Lance Isaak said.

Isaak added that Jensen possesses a vision for engaging the rural elementary school districts that feed into Kalispell’s high schools and said that Jensen will be able to fulfill the district’s strategic plan.

“Matt has stood out and impressed me from day one,” trustee Jinnifer Mariman said.

Mariman expressed enthusiasm about hiring a superintendent who was born and raised in Kalispell and said that Jensen is “firm but fair” and “takes on hard issues.”

The board also praised Jensen’s growth as an administrator in the year since he applied — and was not selected — for the district’s interim superintendent position.

“I see a totally different man there tonight. He has shown us that he can run this district. He is doing an excellent job,” board chair Heather Asher said.

Trustees praised Fricker’s commitment to transparency and community engagement, as well as her experience working with small, rural school districts in California. The board repeatedly said they were impressed by both candidates and commended Fricker’s skills over the course of the hour-long deliberation. 

“All I heard from her was relationship building and transparency, and those are two things I really value in a candidate,” trustee Jennifer Sevier said of Fricker.

Trustee Jack Fallon noted that AA division school districts in Montana typically hire external superintendent candidates. Hiring Jensen, Fallon said, would make him the second consecutive internal superintendent hire for the Kalispell Public Schools after the district in 2020 hired Hill, who was formerly the Glacier High School principal.

Current and former teachers, school district staff and administrators overwhelmingly urged the board to select Jensen, praising his leadership and management skills.

“I haven’t worked with someone as tenacious and kind and hardworking as Matt Jensen. I can absolutely see him in this role,” Kalispell Public Schools Special Services Director Sara Cole said.

Edgerton Elementary School Principal Jen Stein told trustees that Jensen will deliver on his promises and said that “waiting around and seeing what happens” with an external superintendent candidate would be the wrong choice for students and educators.

The school board voted to hire Jensen on a three-year contract at a starting salary of $175,000. The average salary for a superintendent of a AA division school district in Montana is $180,564.

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