Paine named FHS principal; this time permanently

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Flathead High School’s interim principal, Michele Paine, has been named to assume the role permanently on July 1.

Paine moved up from an assistant principal position prior to the start of the school year.

“I’m excited to move forward,” Paine said, adding that she is “ready to take those steps as a school” in regard to vision, growth, instruction, community partnerships and facilities.

On the instructional side, Paine said the school is developing a training component of an International Baccalaureate Excellence and Equity Initiative.

Facility-wise, demolition of Flathead’s small gym has begun as part of a renovation and expansion project. The building project is one of several funded by a $28.8 million high school district bond issue.

The decision follows an 8-1 vote by Kalispell Public Schools board of trustees on Tuesday. Trustee Joe Brenneman opposed the recommendation, voicing concerns about integrity. His top concern was that the school board had been “misled” when it named Paine interim principal in July 2017 on the premise she wouldn’t apply when the position was re-posted in January 2018. Trustees were concerned that an interim applicant would limit the candidate pool if perceived as a “shoo-in” for the job. In December 2017, Paine had reconsidered her stance on applying and asked the board to reevaluate the stipulation.

Before Tuesday’s vote, Chairman Lance Isaak said he supported the recommendation to name Paine principal.

“I hear what Joe is saying, but I do think things change and I think Michele has proven herself over this past year,” Isaak said.

Paine initially interviewed for the principal position in May 2017 following the resignation of Peter Fusaro, who accepted a director position at Flathead Valley Community College.

John Blackman, an assistant superintendent in Idaho, was selected to replace Fusaro and would have started July 1, 2017, but stepped down in June following allegations of plagiarism in an introductory letter to staff. The job was then offered to a hiring committee’s second choice, Tres Genger, a high school principal in Washington. He considered the opportunity, but declined because he had already accepted another position by that time.

In January, when the position reopened, Paine and Genger re-applied and were interviewed along with two other finalists.

Brenneman also questioned the objectivity of hiring committee members who were from Flathead. In addition to staff, the committee included the district superintendent, assistant superintendent, two trustees and a parent.

“I believe there were too many people from Flathead High School on the committee and imagine the scenario had they recommended against [hiring] the interim principal,” Brenneman said.

Kalispell Superintendent Mark Flatau offered a different perspective.

“I will tell you that the deliberations were honest, were forthright. We put, in my opinion, everything on the table in an objective, professional manner in the process of deliberations,” Flatau said. He said that the same standard was applied “across the board when it came to evaluating all the candidates.”

Following the vote, Isaak congratulated Paine to the applause of people in the audience.

“Congratulations, Michele. I look forward to years of good leadership,” Isaak said.

After the board meeting Flatau added, “I’m looking forward to working with her. She’s done a nice job this year I think she deserves an opportunity to demonstrate her leadership at Flathead High School.”

Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or

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