Kalispell School Board Candidate Interview: Rebecca Linden

Incumbent trustee Linden has served on the Kalispell school board since 2020 and has two children currently enrolled in the district.

By Denali Sagner

Flathead Beacon: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Rebecca Linden: I am a current Kalispell Public Schools board member since 2020. I have lived in Kalispell since 2001 and in Montana since 1995. My bachelor’s degree is in theoretical mathematics and my masters degree is in plant physiology. I have served on multiple boards, including the Glacier Symphony and Chorale. As a parent of two children attending Kalispell Public Schools, I personally have brought in experiences for students, including maypole dances, cooking seminars, and craft projects, have judged for speech & debate and science fair, and have provided awards for MathCounts, jazz band and theater. I founded and sold Root Laughter Herbals, a sole proprietorship manufacturing business, and was director of the Montana Herb Gathering from 1998 to 2002.

FB: What is your relationship to the Kalispell Public Schools? 

RL: I have two children in the Kalispell Public Schools, one about to start the adventure of entering high school, and the other about to graduate from high school and embark on an Ivy League journey at Brown University. We’re all very excited for the next stages.

FB: Why are you running for school board? 

RL: I have enjoyed my time serving as a trustee. I am running again because our district has undergone a lot of change, and research shows that school districts have the best student outcomes with consistency of school board members. Over two-thirds of our current trustees have served for less than five years, and we have had four superintendents, three clerks, and two HR directors in that timeframe. That is a lot of institutional knowledge lost. Without this institutional knowledge, some of our decisions going forward will be made without fully understanding why these policies were enacted in the first place.

FB: What are some positive elements of the Kalispell Public Schools you’d like to see continued as a school board trustee? 

RL: The very concept of what schools are, or should be, is changing. New ideas such as proficiency instead of seat time, or internships as well as classes, are entering the conversation. Navigating these issues with a sharp focus on the best interests of the students is the important and fun work we get to do.

One thing we do well is our system of support making sure each student has the support they need before it turns into a crisis needing direct intervention.

Another thing we’ve been doing well is vertical integration, or preparing students for their next phase. This is expressed in the portrait of a graduate: what skills should a student have when they leave a KPS school? Each of our eleven buildings is diligently working on thinking through this question.

It is exciting watching schools continue to do even better.

FB: What are some things you’d like to change about the district as a trustee? 

RL: We need better communication with our constituents. Our district does a lot of good things, like the KEEP program mentoring newer teachers, or introducing science fair on the high school level where students work on presentation skills in oral, written, and visual form, but we have not done as good a job in reporting on them. In a Hedges PTO meeting, I asked, “Why are you here?” The most common answer was “to know what’s going on at our school.” The board has a responsibility to ensure open, respectful communication occurs among parents, teachers, principals, and the community at large.

FB: Alongside school districts across Montana, the Kalispell Public Schools have faced considerable financial challenges this year. Depending on the fate of upcoming levies, the district is set to face a budget deficit between $1.3 million and $3.1 million. What do you see as the best path forward as the district navigates financial challenges? 

RL: My priority as a board member has been, and will continue to be, academic excellence and access to academic opportunities for students. As a board member, I always keep a tight watch on the budget with an eye towards fiscal responsibility, and treating budgets not as constraints, but as directing money towards our mission of ensuring positive student outcomes. The district needs to pass a levy to be fully funded. We have been fiscally responsible to our community and aware of the financial difficulties of our area, so we have not run annual levy elections. However, our high schools are currently funded at 2007 levels, but because both the population of our district and the rate of inflation have grown since then, that amount of funding is not sustainable. We need to communicate with voters about how school funding is supposed to work and pass levies. By law, the state funds 80% of what they imagine we need for basic education. Any money the state designates for education, such as lottery receipts or marijuana taxes, goes toward that 80%. The remaining 20%, which includes all money for anything above and beyond basic instruction, including extracurriculars and athletics, is dictated by law to come from locally funded levies.

FB: KPS over the past few years has focused on personalized competency-based education (PCBE) and work-based learning as methods to create individualized educational opportunities for students. What do you think the role of PCBE and career-focused education should be in students’ learning? 

RL: I see PCBE as a promising structure for different types of learners. One of the really exciting components of PCBE is the idea of 100%. Instead of getting a student to know, say, 70% of the material, giving them a test, and moving on, the idea is to give them the time they need to learn 100% of the material before moving on, whether that takes less or more time than was historically allotted. This is good for all students, including the accelerated student who can master material quickly, and the student who needs extra time.

FB: How has your experience on the school board prepared you to serve another term?  

RL: Running a school district is complicated as we have oversight from the federal, state, and local levels. It takes time to start to understand these interactions – who to go to, who is in charge of what, and the alphabet soup of acronyms.

It takes an entire year just to get acquainted with the various phases the district progresses though during the year – in August preparing to open, in September and October dealing with changes in enrollment, in November and December preparing next year’s curriculum, in January and February organizing staffing for the upcoming year, and in April and May wrapping up details.  To even understand this cycle, you have to live through it.

It can take a few years for students, staff, and parents to come to understand who you are and trust you, and be willing to approach you with concerns.