Kalispell school superintendent seeing final months on the job

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Kalispell Public Schools superintendent Darlene Schottle. Jan. 8, 2014 in Kalispell, Montana. (Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake)

 For Darlene Schottle, January has ushered in a new and final year as Kalispell Public Schools superintendent.

Schottle, 61, will complete her 11-year career as superintendent June 30. She has a total of about 37 years in education.

The timing is right for new leadership to step in during a cycle of education reform with the Common Core Standards and new standardized assessments, according to Schottle.

“It’s hard for me to step away, but I also believe it’s time for the district to have an opportunity to have new leadership,” Schottle said. “I would like to have someone come in who is ready to take the helm and move forward for the next — at least — three to five years.”

Schottle’s longevity has allowed her to build rapport with the community, dig into achieving educational goals and increase the district’s square footage to accommodate growth.

“Education is an ongoing cycle,” she said. “You have to keep renewing what you’re working on and what your vision is in order to keep meeting those goals.”

Improvements in student achievement and an overall reduction in dropout rates are some of Schottle’s successes.

“I think the work with the team of teachers and administrators has made that happen,” she said.

Schottle used Criterion Reference Test reading results over the past 10 years as an example of student achievement. The most dramatic increase was in fourth grade. In 2004, 58 percent of fourth-graders were proficient, compared to the 96 percent proficiency in 2013. The district currently is focusing on math achievement.

New curriculum offerings such as Flathead High School’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme and Glacier High School’s Science, Technology and Math Academy have been added under Schottle’s tenure.

“School District 5 has been a leader in innovation of curriculum,” said Frank Miller, who serves as school board chairman. 

Schottle said she initially was hired to reconfigure grade levels housed in each school. 

“The community interaction to make that decision — and to make that happen — was a very important goal when I first came on board because it was a goal of the board of trustees at that point in time,” Schottle said.

Highlights of that reconfiguration were at the high school and middle school level. The junior high underwent a $10 million expansion to accommodate sixth through eighth grade and was renamed Kalispell Middle School in 2006.

In 2007, Glacier High School opened as part of a $40 million project that included an addition at Flathead High School.

In the last few years the district has tackled ballooning enrollment at the elementary level with classroom additions at Peterson and Edgerton, which were completed this year.

The additions were part of a $3.35 million elementary district bond request that includes a new central kitchen to replace an aging facility with numerous safety issues. The kitchen is slated to be finished at the end of the month.

Overseeing a school district that operates on a $35 million budget necessitates familiarity in a variety of areas.

“You have to gain a knowledge about all different areas from busing to food service to facilities and finance therefore you have to be available to be more of a generalist in order to support your staff,” Schottle said. “You work closely with the people that are the most knowledgeable in those areas,” Schottle said.

Communication is key to her position, especially when navigating opinions of an 11-member school board.

“It’s the largest school board that I have encountered,” Schottle said. “I’ve actually had 44 board members in the 11 years I’ve been here. Keeping a school board well-informed and helping them to have a clear vision of where they want this school district to go is essential. With a larger school board it’s even more essential because there’s always someone changing.”

Emphasis on professional development is an area Schottle felt she also has contributed to the district.

“I highly believe that unless we use good research-based practices both at the administrative level and the classroom level that we aren’t going to keep our students on the cutting edge,” Schottle said. 

Professional development through book studies, speakers and conferences keeps staff current and energized , she said.

“We have to be a learning body if we expect to be able to pass that on to our students,” Schottle said.

Connecting with the community by attending various committees and clubs helps her keep an eye on residents’ concerns about the district.

Schottle also has been able to weather storms in student discipline, notably in October 2011 when two Glacier teens were charged for assault on a football bus. 

Releasing as much information as she can, while protecting student privacy, is a balancing act.

“It’s pretty important to keep those lines of communication open because there will always be information out there and I think it’s incumbent on the school district to try their best to provide the right information,” she noted. .

One of Schottle’s strengths as superintendent is her willingness to listen, Kalispell resident Mary Ruby said. Ruby is in her 14th year as a trustee. Not speaking for the school board, Ruby said this strength particularly came into play as the district built a second high school.

“Going from one high school to two has to be the single most difficult thing a district has to do,” Ruby said. “It takes a pretty strong leader to navigate through that. She will be sorely missed.”

Resignation doesn’t mean retirement for Schottle, who plans to continue working in education as a consultant or in administrative training.

She plans to stay in the valley after a recent move to Bigfork with her husband, Butch. Schottle is looking forward to a summer with an open calendar to explore the outdoors.

“This really is a gorgeous valley,” Schottle said.

Schottle, who was a finalist in past years for superintendent positions in Spokane, Wash., and Eugene, Ore., is happy to conclude her administrative career in Kalispell. 

“It’s been a very satisfying position to be in,” Schottle said. “It’s been an experience that I wouldn’t have traded for anything.”

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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