Note: This is the third Q/A profile of a candidate for a Helena school trustee positions. The final profile will appear in the Independent Record on Saturday. Ballots were taken to the post office on Wednesday and must be physically received at the district by 8 p.m. on May 8.
Name: Niki Whearty
Occupation: Retired High School Librarian and Adjunct instructor at Carroll College
Family: Husband, Jim Reynolds, Son Brandan Whearty (33), granddaughter Mara (5 months) ,daughter, Bridget Whearty, 30.
Education, background, civic affiliations:
2012 – MFA Vermont College, Montpelier, Vt. (Masters of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults)
1979 – Graduate studies in Library Science, Eastern Montana College (MSU Billings)
1976 – Masters in French Language and Civilization, Sorbonne IV, Paris
1974 – BA, Carroll College, French, and Area of Concentration in Russian Studies
I was born and raised in Billings. I came to Helena to attend Carroll College in 1970. Helena has been my home for the last 42 years.
Member of the Board of Directors for Helena’s Youth Connections
Member of Violence Prevention Work Group of Youth Connections
Member of local coordinating committee for Shakespeare in the Parks
Judge for the HEF Harrison Writing Award 2012
Assistant to Pad McCracken, L and C Library Teen Services Librarian, with the Teen Writers Group
How have you been involved in the Helena School District?
I was an educator in the Helena school district for 35 years before retiring in 2011. I have taught social studies, French, bilingual education, and have been a high school librarian at Helena High School for the last 30 years. Currently I am a volunteer tutor for an 11th grader who struggles with reading and writing. I work with him 2 hours a day.
What prompted your interest in becoming a school board member?
I am an ardent proponent of public education. My children were educated in the Helena public schools, and I am grateful to the educators and parents who guided them from grade school to graduation. I have the time and energy to give back to Helena’s school community. I am running for the school board right now because the next few years are pivotal in shaping the future of our schools. Three major changes are facing us. First, we have hired a new superintendent, Dr. Kent Kultgen, who will bring his strong talents and educational perspectives to our community. Second, we are currently involved in a comprehensive educational and facility planning process regarding what learning and learning spaces should look like in our district over the next 25 to 30 years. Third, the Common Core Standards in English, literacy, and mathematics were adopted by the Montana Board of Public Education in 2011. From 2012 to 2014, Helena schools will be aligning and implementing those standards with our local language arts and math curricula in 2012 to 2014. I hope to bring good experience and skills to the board as we set priorities on behalf of Helena’s students.
What do you think your role is with the operations of the district?
School board members are responsible for hiring and evaluating the superintendent. They adopt policy, oversee the direction of curriculum, and establish budget priorities. They monitor student achievement and set long-range plans focused on the quality education of our community’s children. As a member of the school board, I want to keep my attention focused on the needs of our students and on support for our teachers. I want to be responsive to our community’s concerns and respectful of our parents. It is hard work being a school board member and involves making difficult decisions. It is impossible to please everyone, but I am committed to studying the issues carefully and listening to perspectives from a broad base of Helena citizens.
Identify areas of needed school improvement in Helena:
The overcrowding in the North Valley schools has reached such a crisis point that parents lined up at 2 in the morning on Jan. 4, 2012, in an effort to enroll their children in kindergarten at Jim Darcy School. They want to keep their children from being bused to schools on the far side of the community from where they live. Any of us would want the same for our children. This issue of overcrowding and busing cannot be solved with little measures. It may mean moving attendance boundaries, building additions to existing schools, or possibly building a new school. Our schools are in dire need of major maintenance — roofs, etc.
A recent IR article reported on an extensive technology audit of the Helena School District’s network services having been completed by a company from Great Falls with experience in public school networks. We need to look carefully at the recommendations made by the individuals who did the audit and begin to act on them soon, in an organized and efficient manner. Reliable technology is not a nice addition to education. It is vital.
If cuts are necessary where exactly would you look to trim the budget?
Cuts, if they come, must not negatively impact students or keep teachers from being able to do the hard work of educating. I would look at budget areas for contracted services and see if these could be trimmed, especially if it meant bringing in consultants from out of the immediate area. I would ask the board to look at out-of-state travel and to consider ways to support professional development through videoconferencing and webinars if possible. I would look at prepaying as many known expenses as possible for the upcoming year with the unexpended 2011 — 2012 end of year funds, such as warehouse supplies, copy paper and toner, and subscriptions. I would ask that we use savings from unexpended utilities budgets to replace single pane windows and other heat and energy leaks.
Helena has a history of passing every mill levy, do you feel that will and/or should continue?
I sincerely hope that our community continues to demonstrate its support for our children’s education by passing the mill levies. There is no better investment in our future well-being and prosperity than in the education of our children.