Kalispell School Board Candidate Interview: Sue Corrigan

Incumbent trustee Corrigan is a five-year school board member, former board chair and retired Kalispell Public Schools educator.

By Denali Sagner

Flathead Beacon: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What is your relationship to the Kalispell Public Schools (KPS)? 

Sue Corrigan: I have lived in Montana since 1976 and in Kalispell since 1986. I went to college at the University of Montana (Go Griz!). During my time in Montana I have worked for the U.S. Forest Service, the city of Havre, the Montana Office of Public Instruction, Northwest Montana Human Resources and Kalispell Public Schools. I retired from KPS in 2018 after 15 years as a job coach and 17 years as a special education teacher at Flathead High School. I am a national board certified teacher for students with exceptionalities. I also coached tennis as assistant coach and then as head coach for a total of ten years. After retiring, I ran for the Kalispell Public Schools Board of Trustees and was reelected to that board three years ago. I have served on the board for five years, two as board chair. I am hoping to get reelected this term to continue my journey towards quality education for all students. My daughter graduated with honors from Flathead High School. After being elected to the local school board, I was also elected to the board of directors for the Montana School Boards Association. Currently I am the president elect of this organization. In this role I have the opportunity to influence education at the state and national levels.

FB:  Why are you running for school board? 

SC: I am running for reelection to the school board because I believe in the power of education to shape the future of students, families and communities. As an experienced trustee, I want to continue the ongoing journey toward strategic improvement and growth while preserving core values and innovating instruction to meet individual student needs. I plan to support KPS staff as they lead students through their educational pathways. I support staff as they challenge students’ learning and build students’ confidence to use that education. In my role as a trustee I have had the pleasure of visiting all our school sites and I have experienced the enthusiasm of students and staff as they work through rigorous yet appropriate lessons.  

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

SC: I have witnessed so many positive things happening in Kalispell Public Schools. The transition to Personalized, Competency-Based Education is exciting to see. Student engagement in daily lessons is so fun to see! Teachers and staff are assessing student strengths and designing lessons to enrich those strengths and support areas of struggle. I have also witnessed students on work-based learning sites. High school students work with local businesses and organizations on authentic jobs while getting credit for graduation. Throughout our school district, I have witnessed education being individualized  to meet the needs of all students and their families. Renewed engagement of parents in the education of their children is a positive outcome in this process. Not all students thrive in a traditional classroom and I am proud of the vibrant programs at Linderman Education Center and at the VoAg Center. KPS recognizes the uniqueness of students and creates a school culture that values democracy, inclusiveness and respect for all members of the community.

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

SC: As a trustee I strive to strengthen the school district’s relationship with the Flathead community. I plan to continue this effort. Not only do I visit the schools, but I also visit with staff and students when the opportunities arise. I support schools when I talking with community members and organizations. I also see a need to evaluate the type of assessments given at our schools. Our education system is changing and our assessment of that system may also need changing. It is crucial to know if the new programs are effective. Trustees need to evaluate how to know when programs are achieving the intended goals and if changes need to be made.

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?

SC: Schools across Montana are struggling to fund their schools. Kalispell Public Schools is no exception. The budget shortfall on the horizon will require trustees and administrators to be vigilant about spending. A core value driving budget decisions of the district is support for student services. Students should not feel the budget woes. A priority should always be student achievement and growth. As trustees we must also work with our legislators to fully fund the future of our valuable resource – people. We must always be looking for new opportunities for funding outside of local taxes.  

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? 

SC: Personalized, Competency-Based Education is an exciting movement in education. It is based on student driven instruction focused on strengths and needs of individuals. Schools must prepare students for their own future. Students must have the critical skills to be successful in careers, trades, military or family life. At Kalispell Public Schools that begins with early literacy programs to support reading, writing and speaking skills of our youngest students. Prepping for the future culminates with career exploration and work-based learning at the high school level. Schools have the flexibility to use innovative techniques to support learning for all students.  

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

SC: During my five years on the school board I have the opportunity to learn about the responsibilities of school boards. Our three main responsibilities include setting the vision, providing the resources, and providing oversight.  During these past five years, I am proud of being part of this team that earned the honor of being awarded School Board of the Year in 2021. The year after the pandemic when Kalispell Public Schools remained open when other Montana schools went to remote instruction. This was a challenge for sure. The vision is set with the development of the strategic plan, resources are allocated through the budget process and oversight is provided with due diligence in evaluating district policies procedures and statutes. Through all the issues facing schools today, trustees cannot forget or ignore our main responsibility outlined in the Montana Constitution – to develop the full potential of each child in public school. I hope to continue this journey, working side by side with my colleagues on the board, in administration and in the classroom.