2021 School Board Trustee Candidates

School Board Trustee ballots are mailing this week. Ballots are due back by May 4th.

Voted printed papers on white surfaceA 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.  You can learn more here: https://www.gfps.k12.mt.us/domain/130

red apple fruit on four pyle booksThis year, we have 8 community members who have put in their name to be elected as a GFPS School Board Trustee. We wanted to provide you information about these candidates, as well as notify you that the Great Falls Tribune will be publishing questions answered by our candidates. The Electric is hosting an online School Board Trustee Candidate Forum this Monday, April 19th, from 6:00-7:30pm. The link to the forum is: https://theelectricgf.com/2021/04/14/gfps-candidate-virtual-forum-is-april-19/

GFEA has also shared information related to the Trustee election on their web page.

Additionally, here are responses to five questions from KEY that candidates were invited to answer. Candidates are represented in alphabetical order by last name. Remember, ballots are due back by May 4th!
Info arrow signage

Russ Herring

  1. Two most challenging issues facing Great Falls Schools at this time?
    It is hard to avoid the elephant in the room during the past year-and-a-half of our collective lives, isn’t it? Everything we do, see and are, have been impacted by COVID-19. Our lives continue to be impacted by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and emerging mutations and variants to same. How could it not be of benefit to the students and teachers of GFPS to have a Trustee who has been involved intimately and professionally, with the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 for the entirety of the pandemic? I feel it is part of my day-to-day job description to have awareness of changes and evolutions to both the virus and the public health response thereto.
    COVID will remain the subtext to many conversations regarding education for the foreseeable future. I believe that I could be helpful to the board, students, teachers and district as a Trustee on the board. That is the only reason I’m running – to help.
    Frankly, I find it hard to look beyond the innumerable ways COVID has impacted our schools. How do we pay for the increased operating costs created by COVID and the combined in-person/remote learning that has transpired? Families are hurting, just as business and schools are hurting. How do we ensure children graduate with the academic proficiency to pursue whatever the next stage of their lives may hold?
  2.  My experiences and connection to GFPS?
    I think it’s important that I am forthcoming and transparent on several points which voters may find qualifying or disqualifying… I am not from Great Falls. My primary and secondary education were in Kaycee, Wyoming, population 250 souls. My graduating class had 20 people. I was raised in a community very different from Great Falls, though we also lived in Billings for 8 years before moving here, with both my sons attending school within that district.  My wife is a sixth-grade instructor within the district. I have two bachelors, a masters and am a doctorally-prepared nurse practitioner at the Great Falls Clinic. I know what it takes to prepare for, and succeed as a college student, at all levels from JUCO – large, land-grant public learning institutions. I’ve never attended a VOTEC, but completely support the vital role they play. I have one son at Great Falls High, and another at Morningside Elementary. Any decisions I made as a trustee would be because I believed the outcome would benefit the students of the district. I was stationed at Malmstrom and have experienced Great Falls from both sides of the fence.
  3.  Most important things to achieve by serving as a GFPS Trustee?
    The students attending primary and secondary school now are having a very different experience than any of us did during our upbringings. Ensuring students both graduate in the first place, and graduate with the proficiencies necessary to pursue their goals after graduation, are paramount in my mind.
    Prior to the pandemic graduation rates in the district were around 80%, dating to data during the 2017-2018 academic year. I shudder to think about that data when it’s compiled from 2020-202*(whenever we get our normal lives back) academic years. I knew one person from my little high school who didn’t graduate. He was about 5 years older than me, and is the only person I can think of who didn’t graduate from KHS. A good guy, but school wasn’t his thing. Our graduation rates were above 99%. We’re not in Kaycee, Wyoming any longer. That said, 1 in 5 not graduating from district schools (and falling during the pandemic) is unacceptable to my mind and needs to be addressed.
    CARES Act money is coming and the utilization of that money absolutely must address the success of our students.
  4.  Aspect of public-school funding most in need of change?
    I truly wish school board trustee was an entirely apolitical process. Isn’t the goal to produce successful adults who are constructive and productive members of society? The issue of money is what invariably brings the political hawks into the conversation. My thought process with respect to schools is thus – what is best for the students, followed by what is best for the teachers and staff who care for those students, and finally how can we achieve those goals economically?
    It’s a tough time to make cuts and an equally tough time for the schools to ask for more money. The combination of in-person vs remote learning, as well as the enhanced sanitation, cleaning demands, what have you, have certainly made it more costly to “keep the lights on” in our schools, at the same time the rest of the community is hurting too badly to react favorably to mill-levies, etc. As I said in another forum regarding the upcoming election, I think the most fruitful, and the healthiest way to address possible cuts and needs, would be to survey the schools themselves – including teachers, administrators and support staff such as janitors, lunch staff and others. When the frontline staff help to generate the ideas, they have buy-in and a role in the management of the district. Administration from on-high, without the input of those affected, rarely generates the best results for anyone involved.
  5. What do I want people to know about me and my interest in school board?
    I am a Family Nurse Practitioner with a doctorate, serving as a primary care provider in the Great Falls Community. The entire planet is still deeply buried under a pandemic. I have diagnosed and treated more COVID-19 than all the other trustee candidates combined, simply on the merit of our varying occupations and backgrounds. I’ve been part of the GFC COVID response since we temporarily closed the Northwest Clinic to anything other than COVID-19 testing over a year ago. When we closed our family practice clinic and did nothing but COVID from that location, I asked to remain behind and help from the front line because I thought it was the right thing to do. We’re still in a pandemic. If that isn’t qualifying, I couldn’t be made to understand how. The school board absolutely needs somebody with my background. I work closely with other healthcare professionals in Cascade County, and can quickly reach out to ask questions of subject matter experts.
    Finally, I don’t have an agenda. I’m not running as a fiscal liberal or conservative, I’m not running to show the current board how it’s done. I have no axe to grind. I’m running because I thought I might be able to help, and that it is each of our duties to help in whatever capacity we’re able. If I’m not elected by the constituency of GFPS, I trust that whoever they do select will have our students’ best interests in mind, and I’m fine with that.

Scott Jablonski

  1. What do you see as the two most challenging issues facing Great Falls Public Schools at this time?
    1) Parent involvement in their child’s curriculum. I hate to say it but we as parents fall down in this area from time to time as our kids get older, we assume they do their work and are ok in the classroom when often times they struggle.
    2) Equipment-  our classrooms and kids need to have the proper equipment to mold their minds and do the lessons expected of them. We need to have a one-to-one ratio for learning capabilities.   Our system is failing our kids without the proper technology at their fingertips to do what is asked of them by our teachers. 
  2. Please describe your experiences and connection to Great Falls Public Schools.
    Currently I have 3 children in the Great Falls Public schools. One in High School, two in Elementary.  My wife is a Teacher in the district as well.
  3. What do you see as the most important things to achieve by serving as a GFPS School Board Trustee?
    The most important things to achieve is by advocating for our teachers with in the district. They need support from the board to accomplish their goals in shaping our young minds. 
  4. What aspect of public school funding do you think is the most in need of change?
    As, an new candidate for this position I can honestly state that I do not know without getting in and finding out first hand.  If elected, I have 3 years to look this over and advocate for proper changes in the areas that I feel are necessary.
  5. What do you want the community to know about you and your interest in serving as a trustee of GFPS?
    I want to serve on this board to make a difference.  I don’t want to just sit idle without my voice being heard.

Kevin Leatherbarrow


Age: 49
Immediate Family: Annie Leatherbarrow (spouse), father of two
Education: Master of Education (University at Buffalo)
Occupation: Educator & Business Owner

  1. What do you see as the two most challenging issues facing Great Falls Public Schools at this time?
    Lack of teacher support and resources by the administration to help with classroom management and teaching strategies (i.e., professional development, lack of consistency of curriculum provided across the district, outside development opportunities, diminished autonomy, etc.) Falling short to support students, particularly in Special Ed. Choosing to use public taxpayer dollars in other areas instead of toward more pressing issues.
  2. Please describe your experiences and connection to Great Falls Public Schools.
    I believe Great Falls students and parents need someone who will take a position on quality education that focuses on truly preparing students in Great Falls for the life ahead of them mentally, emotionally and academically. I have been an educator for more than a decade. I am currently the CEO and founder of an educational service in Great Falls. Additionally, I have experience teaching at various levels in education inners cities, Native schools, charter schools and Special Education schools.
  3. What do you see as the most important things to achieve by serving as a GFPS School Board Trustee?
    I would like to Vastly improve how the Special Education department provides services to be more efficient, compliant, and where parents, students and teachers all feel supported and cohesive curriculum. Redirect funding to provide teachers with more development and training opportunities and facilitate the voucher programs being considered by the state. Help families feel confident in their school district.
  4. What aspect of public school funding do you think is the most in need of change?
    Special Needs
  5. What do you want the community to know about you and your interest in serving as a trustee of GFPS?
    I would like to bring technology education across the board (admin, teachers, students, and families), rigorous literacy programs, and modernized life skills, all which can transfer from the school setting to a community setting seamlessly, so everyone is prepared for a 21st Century education with or without a pandemic. Making sure our children are safe. Most importantly, there should always be a focus on maintaining the heart of Great Falls and the roots of Montana while making these transitions.

Nathan Reiff

  1. What do you see as the two most challenging issues facing Great Falls Public Schools at this time?
    Funding – I believe most community members value education and our schools, but many are not aware of the lack of funding and the needs of the school district.  The district has had to cut staff and programs.  The administration, along with KEY and other community members and businesses, have done a good job educating the public about these problems, and we need to continue to do this, especially in years when the district is not asking for additional funding. Funding needs to be about engagement and connecting the value of the schools to the community.
    Recovering from the pandemic – This has been a challenging year for teachers, students, staff, administration, and parents.  We have seen how vital our schools are and how intertwined our schools are with the community. We will need to continue to focus on recovering the gap created by the pandemic to ensure we are helping students to reach and meet their educational goals.
  2. Please describe your experiences and connection to Great Falls Public Schools.
    My first connection to the schools is having a daughter in the district. She is a junior this year and has benefitted from the dedication of teachers, staff, and administration of the school.  This dedication could not have been more evident than in this past year with all the changes required due to the pandemic.  She has had great educational experiences and opportunities to participate in several extracurricular activities.
    As a member, and president, of the symphony board, I have seen the many talented students who participate in our musical programs. The school music programs have made our symphony better.

    As a business coach for the GFDA, I have seen and heard first hand how important quality schools are to our business community.
  3. What do you see as the most important things to achieve by serving as a GFPS School Board Trustee?
    As a trustee, I will listen to the community to better engage as many stakeholders as possible.  I want to help facilitate open dialogue between the board, district, and the community.
    As the board determines how to spend the additional federal monies received due to the pandemic, it is important that these one-time funds are used in a manner that can provide long-term benefits. 
  4. What aspect of public school funding do you think is the most in need of change?
    The state should provide greater funding to the districts. This would provide more equal funding to schools and make schooling more equal between communities.  The need for school districts to fund the balance of their budget through levies means that our schools can end up chronically underfunded.  This also creates uncertainty in the budgeting process.
  5. What do you want the community to know about you and your interest in serving as a trustee of GFPS?
    Schools, and an educated community, are an essential part of a vibrant community. I want to be a part of continuing to increase the strength of our educational system. That means working with teachers and administrators to understand their aspirations, concerns, and needs. I have benefited from the education my daughter has received. I would like the opportunity to give back to the school district by serving as a trustee.

Tucker Schleining

No response received

Dustin Shoemake

He is no longer planning to run.

Genevieve Smyth

No response received 

Marlee Sunchild


I was born and raised in Great Falls. I graduated from Great Falls High in 1991. I then went on to MSU-Northern to earn my Bachelor Degree in Elementary Education. I earned a Master’s of Science Degree in Reading and Literacy Instruction  and a Master’s of Science Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. I taught for four years at Box Elder Public Schools which is adjacent to the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation. I then moved to Great Falls where I taught for 21 years at Longfellow Elementary. I retired after 25 years of teaching last spring. I come from a long line of educators, I have had 2 children go to the schools in Great Falls and have 2 cats.

1. What do you see as the two most challenging issues facing Great Falls Public Schools at this time?
An ongoing issue has for a long time, been teacher pay and teacher burnout. We have to start working on long-term solutions to teacher burnout so that younger teachers are more
apt to stay in Great Falls rather than emigrating to communities that offer better pay and more benefits that are more attractive to younger teachers.
2. Please describe your experiences and connection to Great Falls Public Schools.
I was a teacher in the district for over 20 years, as well as a parent of two students for over 16 years, one graduating in 2018 and the other set to graduate this spring. Both of my parents taught for over 25 years as well after graduating from Great Falls High themselves.
3. What do you see as the most important things to achieve by serving as a GFPS School Board Trustee?
First and foremost I want to work on bridging the divide
between the school board and the taxpayers. We have to continue our work on being the conduit between the schools and the taxpayers. I also would love to prioritize mental health well-being for both our teachers and our students.
4. What aspect of public school funding do you think is the most in need of change?
We have to find a way that we can pay our teachers more. The current system we have in place is not working. We are losing far too many teachers to districts that can afford to pay their teachers more than we can in Great Falls.
5. What do you want the community to know about you and your interest in serving as a trustee of GFPS?
I know firsthand how the teachers and parents can work together to make GFPS the leader in the state. With so many great opportunities before the district, I think someone with my
experience would be a great asset to the community of Great Falls.