Helena's school board selected Greg Upham, Tyler Ream and Barbara Hickman as the three finalists for the superintendent position.

The board spent the last two days interviewing five candidates for two hours each, asking questions pertaining to a lack of school funding, special education services, the possibility of East Helena becoming its own high school district and the demand for more career and technical education.

After wrapping up interviews, board members immediately met to pick their top three candidates. The eight board members present wrote down their top three candidates in no particular order. When the results of the poll were tallied, eight favored Ream, seven favored Hickman and six favored Upham.

Barbara Hickman, Ed.D, served as superintendent in the Flagstaff Unified School District from 2010 until 2016. In March 2016, Hickman accepted a job at the Colorado Department of Education as the department’s new associate commissioner for quality instruction and leadership.

Tyler Ream, Ed.D, is an associate superintendent for Academic Performance and Support at Spring Branch ISD in Houston. 

Greg Upham, M.A., has served as the assistant superintendent at Helena Public Schools since 2012. He was previously principal at Helena High School from 2006 to 2012.

After indicating their preferences on paper, the board made a motion to consider all three candidates as finalists. The motion passed unanimously, and the only discussion about the vote regarded the quality of all five candidates who interviewed.

“Every one of them had a tremendous passion for kids,” board member Jeff Hindoien said.

The process to determine the finalists was not discussed ahead of the meeting. Board Chair Sarah Sullivan said the decision to poll on paper was decided immediately before the official vote.

Board member Luke Muszkiewicz suggested the board come up with a process to “avoid some of the confusion that occurred today.”

He told the Independent Record after the meeting that the board considered the search firm's suggestions but ended up making some last-minute changes to the selection process. 

Some of the confusion was about when board members could enter into an executive session to exclude the public from certain parts of the discussion and whether board members would explain the reasoning behind their vote. 

Hindoien, who is also a lawyer, said certain things like information in a background check are subject to privacy, but board member feedback that is negative would be part of a public meeting.

“It can’t just be uncomfortable,” he said. “You have a lesser expectation of privacy as a district superintendent in Montana than you do as a classroom teacher.”

The board decided to have more discussion after the final interviews that includes the rationale for why board members are pushing for certain candidates. 

The three finalists will come to Ray Bjork on March 14 at 4 p.m. to meet separately with the Helena Education Association, administrators and students for about a half hour each. Those groups will have an opportunity to provide written feedback for the board to review. Afterward, a reception will be held for the community to meet the three finalists at the Holter Museum from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

At 9 a.m. the following morning, board members will meet with the three candidates for final interviews before they make a decision. The recruitment firm, Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, will also do deep background checks and call references ahead of the final decision.