1 year GFPS School Board Trustee Q&A

GFPS School Board Elections will be held on May 3rd at the fairgrounds and voting will be completed by 8:00pm.  Mailed ballots will be going out on April 13th.  If you don’t receive a ballot you can get one at the cascade county elections office. Mailed ballots should be sent in 4 days prior to the election to ensure your vote.


As a reminder, a school board trustee is responsible for adopting and enforcing all policies related to management of Great Falls Public Schools. Their ultimate purpose is to ensure the policies and practices of the district support all students, individually and collectively, to have appropriate opportunities to achieve academic success.

This is a voluntary position. None of the trustees are compensated. Great Falls Public Schools has seven trustees. Learn more here: https://www.gfps.k12.mt.us/domain/130

There are five community members running for the one-year term school board trustee position. The candidates are (in alpha order by last name) as they will be printed on your ballot:

Brad Anderson

  1. Please describe your experiences and connection to Great Falls Public Schools.

I am a retired employee of the GFPS. I worked for twenty-two and two third years as a custodial engineer. During that time, I was able to build working relationships with the teachers, students,  administrators and parents. I was also able to observe how our teachers interacted with the student and parents. What I learned helped me to really appreciate the incredible job our teachers do for our kids.

  1. What do you see as the most challenging issue facing Great Falls Public Schools at this time? What successes do you see in the programs and teaching delivered through Great Falls Public Schools?

Maintaining transparency and trust with parents and the community in general is in my view, the most challenging and pressing issue facing GFPS at this time. As we have seen from the battles  across the country, parental and community trust in their schools and school boards is at an all-time low in too many areas. GFPS has a pretty good record when it comes to transparency. The challenge is maintaining that transparency and trust. I have seen a lot of success in the programs and teaching.

  1. What do you see as the three most important things to achieve by serving as a GFPS Board Trustee?

 The three most important things to achieve as a GFPS board trustee are: doing my part to ensure our kids continue to receive the best education possible, to help maintain a good partnership with the parents and community, and to help ensure teachers get the resources they need to do their jobs properly.

  1. What aspect of public school funding do you think is the most in need of change? As a Trustee, how would you advocate for that change?

The GFPS must be up front with the community about the financial needs of the district.

  1. What do you want the community to know about you, your qualifications, and your interest in serving as a trustee of GFPS?

 I am 62 years old. I have been a member of this community for almost 41 years. I believe my years as an employee gives me solid experience to be a good trustee.

Russell Herring

  1. Please describe your experience and connection to GFPS.

Those who follow such things, may recognize my name from last year’s School Trustee election. I’ll admit this isn’t an entirely pleasant experience, but I learned a great deal about both the Trustee election process, and public schools, even if I didn’t win on the ballots. I would hope that my willingness to take a second “at-bat” for an unpaid, high-stress position, would speak to my desire to participate in this process, and my eagerness to be part of the team that directly supports and impacts the students and staff of GFPS. Additionally, my wife is an educator within the district. Our sons attend GFPS schools. The success of my home and family is tied very directly to the success of the students and staff of GFPS. I believe the success of students is directly related to the success of district staff, and vice versa.

  1. What do you see as the most challenging issue facing GFPS at this time? What successes do you see in the programs and teaching delivered through GFPS?

I would propose that the biggest challenge facing GFPS is tied to an enormous success. My son took his ACT yesterday. His analysis of the test, based on his personal experience, and his observation of his fellow test-takers, was that the results from the ACT this year aren’t going to be impressive. We find out in 5-8 weeks, I’m advised. The COVID-19 pandemic placed an enormous strain on everyone, though specific to GFPS, I think district staff worked tirelessly to “keep the lights on” and do their absolute best to continue instruction and to continue providing students with a path toward successful futures. They were quite successful, though not completely successful. A great deal of adaptation had to occur on the fly, as we lacked the tools to engage in protracted remote learning. Also, providing students and staff with the tools and resources to catch up would be the most substantial obstacle facing districts nationwide. COVID has been a generation-defining event, and we’re going to have to make a very concerted effort to change the definition to one of recovery and not missed opportunities.

  1. What do you see as the three most important things to achieve by serving as a GFPS board trustee?
  • The constellation of important tasks facing the board over the next year will be academic recovery from the pandemic. ESSERS and ARPA funds will be exhausted, and must be spent by 2024. National inflation rates are close to 7%. Goods and services are harder to come by, not just for you and me, but for the school district as well. Goods and services are more expensive, when they can be found in the first place. Thus, funding will be an issue. School funding could probably be pre-printed into this question for all the candidates, I’d wager.
  • I would reiterate that restoring students’ academic success to levels seen prior to the pandemic would be essential.
  • Finally, I would remind everyone that we’re here for children and staff, not to squabble amongst ourselves. I hope the voters weigh us each on our merits, and choose whoever they think will be best for the District.
  1. What aspect of public-school funding do you see as most in need of change? As a trustee, how would you advocate for that change?

In a perfect world, I think school funding should be legally mandated to remain at 100%. Under current funding models, the state of Montana generates a “cost per student”, which is applied statewide at 80% of total funding, and it then rests with individual districts to generate the balance, using levies, generally. This creates an argument over levies, and is then used as a political harpoon against the sitting trustees, as they attempt to generate enough capital to maintain the district in a state of working order. I believe this is casually referred to as the “rich school/poor school” model. Certain districts in Montana easily pass levies and their districts remain well funded. Other districts have a more challenging time, and the students/staff are caught in the fray. I don’t think it should even be an annual conversation. Obviously, schools should be funded. I hope this is obvious? Whether it needs to be addressed at the state or county level, perhaps both, would require working with elected officials at the state and county levels.

  1. What do you want the community to know about you, your qualifications, and your interest in serving as a GFPS board trustee?

My interest in the GFPS Board of Trustees is rooted in a desire to help students and staff, as I fundamentally believe education to be the core of a fruitful society. I’ve attended public schools my entire life. My wife is a public-school instructor. My children attend GFH and East Middle School. I want my children to be successful, and I want my spouse to have what she needs to do her job. 

As I said, I believe education to be the bedrock upon which a successful society is built. Our children won’t always live in Great Falls, and they need to start their lives with the best opportunity at success in this big world.

Scott Jablonski

  1. Please describe your experience and connection to GFPS.

I have 2 kids within the public school system currently.  I have had one kid graduate from the public schools.  I have been and still a baseball coach to some of the young boys in our school system for the past 4 years.

2. What do you see as the most challenging issue facing GFPS at this time? What successes do you see in the programs and teaching delivered through GFPS?

The most challenging issue I see right now is that our parents do not have a voice within our school district. It seems that the parent’s values fall on def ears when it comes to our kids.

GFPS is filled with talented and knowledgeable teachers, however administration/government entities tend to stifle the teacher’s abilities to teach affectively and efficiently.

3.What do you see as the three most important things to achieve by serving as a GFPS board trustee?

The 3 most important things to achieve by serving in the school board are:

  • To give more of a  voice to the children and parents, kids and parents alike have not been heard enough to what is being taught to our kids. 
  • Thorough transparency of the school budget the we need to see where the money is going and how it is benefiting the kids. 
  • Full clarity in school curriculum- all parents, students, and staff need to have a full understanding of the who, what, why, where, when, and how  the curriculum is being taught.

4. What aspect of public-school funding do you see as most in need of change? As a trustee, how would you advocate for that change?

We need to utilize our funding where it is most beneficial. Pumping funding into schools with low attendance  or participation rates is not meeting the districts vision statement : “ All kids engaged in learning today…for life tomorrow.”    If you don’t attend or participate you are not engaged.

I would advocate for more parent and student accountability. Teachers should not be required to fluff grades based on a “rough home life”; Students should be evaluated based on their ability to meet grade level norms .

5. What do you want the community to know about you, your qualifications, and your interest in serving as a GFPS board trustee?

First and foremost I am a parent who is concerned about my children’s long term education in Great falls Public Schools. Secondly, I am concerned that this district cannot keep amazing teachers.  My wife was a teacher in this district for 15 years and chose to pursue a new career due to the nonsensical leadership of this district.  Finally, I want to see our children become more college and career ready to the point that they are proud to make Great Falls their forever home.

Caitlyn Nash

This candidate has withdrawn from the election.

Amie Thompson

1.Please describe your experiences and connection to Great Falls Public Schools.

I have been volunteering in classrooms and for Great Falls Public Schools for 16 years, served on PTA boards for nine years and served on the Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Panel for four years. My husband, Scott, and I have two daughters, Lizzie and Hallie, who graduated from the district and benefited from participating in many extra-curricular activities. They are currently in college studying in fields they found a passion for during their years at Great Falls High.

My passion for public education stems from my years of volunteering in classrooms and believing that every child deserves an opportunity to learn. When I volunteered in my girls’ classrooms, I helped the kids who needed extra math and reading work. I’ve seen the balance teachers have to find to teach both ends of the spectrum, and I understand how important a teacher’s relationship can be for students. Sometimes a teacher is their only advocate for educational support.

Through my years on PTA, I planned carnivals, helped with yearbooks and streamlined a classroom grant system, to name a few ways I have helped our schools. I’ve evaluated teacher grants and helped sell truck raffle tickets since the fundraiser’s inception for the GFPS Foundation, judged speech and debate and science fairs and spent countless hours helping sports teams through the years.

  1. What do you see as the most challenging issue facing Great Falls Public Schools at this time? What successes do you see in the programs and teaching delivered through Great Falls Public Schools?

Just as anywhere in the nation, we are working to bridge the learning gap caused by the pandemic. We need to meet our students where they are, though, and that sometimes means they need mental health support first before they can thrive in the classroom. Meeting the basic needs of our students so they can thrive in the classroom must continue to be a priority.

Along with that, teacher retention and teacher burnout continue to be challenges. In order to bridge that gap, we need strong teachers, and we need to be able to competitively recruit new teachers as others retire.

Success comes in many packages, and we can see it especially this time of year as a new class of students nears graduation. Success can look like scholarships, high test scores and prominent college acceptance letters, but it also looks like early high school graduation to pursue a career in technical education, or graduating with a certificate in welding at Great Falls College MSU before graduating from high school. For others, success is walking over the stage at graduation and receiving the first high school diploma in the family. I have detailed several success stories I’ve seen in my time as a district parent and volunteer on my Facebook page, Amie Thompson for School Trustee.

3. What do you see as the three most important things to achieve by serving as a GFPS Board Trustee?

  • Teachers are our most valuable asset, and we need to retain them, address teacher burnout and continue to competitively recruit top talent. I see our public education system as the foundation to our city’s growth. When companies recruit to Great Falls, a top candidate wants to make sure the school system is good. When businesses look at planting roots here, they need to know there is a workforce ready to help them succeed. Having top teachers is key to a strong district and a bedrock to a strong community.
  • The extra mental health support staff we currently have in schools thanks to one-time ESSER funds has been a great addition, and I think it’s going to be important to try to figure out how to keep the extra resources going forward.
  • The district needs to continue to partner with the community to find win-win pathways for our students to succeed while also meeting the needs of our workforce. If elected, I’d be excited to work with other community leaders to find these solutions. Recently, 23 community members traveled to Alabama to check out a workforce partnership between a Chamber of Commerce and its school district. We can take that out-of-the box thinking that they are doing in Alabama and apply it to the unique needs of our school district and community.

4. What aspect of public school funding do you think is the most in need of change? As a Trustee, how would you advocate for that change?

I appreciate how fiscally responsible the district is and was thrilled to find out we had a balanced budget for the first time in many years at the budget committee town hall last month. It was exciting to see green on the screen. We are traditionally $800,000 to $1 million short, but thanks to a nice bump in enrollment and ESSER funds, we’re balanced.

About 80% of our funding comes from the state, and that last 20% is community buy-in. The funding formula only works if a district sees significant growth or decline in student enrollment. When enrollment is steady, like it is typically in Great Falls, it leaves the district in a position where inflation increases aren’t covered by the state’s money. Explaining complicated rules and funding formulas is difficult. KEY has done a great job with targeted and clear messaging, and we need to keep hitting on those messages.

Our community needs to understand what we can gain or lose when we choose to fund or not fund that extra 20%. I have helped with KEY’s efforts throughout the years, and as a professional communicator who has volunteered at every level within the district, I will continue to do that.

  1. What do you want the community to know about you, your qualifications, and your interest in serving as a trustee of GFPS?

I’m passionate about student success, teacher support and our community. During my years on the PTA, I put more than 50 hours a year into planning school carnivals to give families a fun and free night of entertainment and once spent closer to 100 hours putting together a middle school yearbook when none of our overworked teachers could support the effort. I couldn’t bear the thought of the class not having that keepsake. I’m not afraid of hard work, and I understand the many complexities of the school system.

I’ve been the communications coordinator with NorthWestern Energy for nearly five years, after spending 20 years in journalism, nearly 10 as an editor at the Great Falls Tribune. I have a bachelor’s in journalism and history from the University of Montana. I’ll finish up my masters in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University in August. I’ve always been a creative, out-of-the-box thinker and strategic planner, but now I have a sharper vison of how to use it. My skillset will be a nice complement to those already on the board.