Going to Public School in Great Falls Changed My Life for the Better

My name is Stephanie Mills, and I had the pleasure of growing up in Great Falls, Montana. My youth was filled with so many great occasions which helped shape the woman leader I am today.

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Growing up in Great Falls not only provided me a community of compassionate and supportive neighbors but also an educational experience providing me the skills, opportunities, and knowledge to reach my fullest potential.

From my elementary years at Riverview Elementary, middle school years at North Middle School to my high school graduation at C.M.R. in 1997; the education and extra-curricular activities opportunities I received shaped my future.

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I was blessed to have two very loving parents who worked hard to provide for me and my sister. They provided us with all our needs; food, clothes, weekend camping trips up to Holter Lake during the summer.

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We lived a good life but it was not lavish. Private school was never an option, nor did it need to be.

The Great Falls Public School offered an exceptional education, endless extra-curricular opportunities, and school communities filled with caring, devoted and long-time educators.

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In elementary school I was provided the opportunity to play an instrument; I chose the violin. Mr. Dell, who became my orchestra teacher all through my schooling, gave me much more than the teachings of how to play but guidance on perseverance, commitment, and accountability.

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My years of playing in orchestra provided me skillsets beyond what you learn in your core classes.

To this day; I know my follow through on meeting deadlines, practicing to become the best I can, and being prepared in my work all lend from my teaching in music.

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The impact in which the Great Falls Public Schools had on my life does not end at my experiences in the orchestra.

The teachers I had each year all went above and beyond to ensure I received the education and support I needed to thrive.

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Mrs. Ford, my third-grade teacher is a fine example of what I am speaking about. Third grade is such a pivotal year in learning new math skills. I struggled with my multiplication and division. She immediately recognized the commitment I had to learn rather than shrugging her shoulders at my average to low scores.

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Each night after school she stayed with me, showing me different ways to learn the math. She didn’t accept “I can’t do it” from me; she demanded excellence…because she knew I had it in me. My low test scores in math turned into high test scores.

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Today I oversee multi-million dollar budgets with ease. Today I don’t set aside a problem when I am faced with it; I put in the time, effort, and expand my learning to reach excellence. She was instrumental in these attributes, and I will forever be thankful. Mrs. Ford is but one example of the many teachers who helped shape the woman leader I am today.

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For the past 19 years, I have been in the career field of non-profit development, or more commonly known as non-profit fundraising. I can say with complete certainty the skills I
developed by participating in Odyssey of the Mind, Youth & Government, and Speech and Debate clubs have helped me reach the level of executive leadership I have today.

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Through these programs offered at my schools, I learned skills of problem-solving, the art of public speaking, persuasive writing, a case for support development, and research; which gave me the foundational knowledge to grow into a successful woman executive I am today.

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Currently, I serve as a Chief Development Officer for a $10m non-profit organization where I lead the fundraising efforts to ensure we are meeting our community’s most critical needs. I am a national trainer for the organization and present at national conferences to help others learn how to raise funds to meet community needs.

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If I had not had those opportunities I would not be the leader I am today.

I would not be serving my community to help those who need us most.

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The decisions made in regards to public education and extra-curricular activities we offer our students are so much more than a budgetary decision.

It is decisions on what foundation shall be laid for these students future.

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It is the realization of the value of our educators and programmatic activities we provide students. It is the accountability we have as citizens to ensure students receive everything they need to become the leaders of tomorrow.

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I am so disheartened to know the city in which provided me such an impactful educational experience has only passed two school levies in 10 years, cut important programs, and lost over 100 teacher positions.

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John Adams, U.S. President said, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

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It is the responsibility of the people to ensure education is funded, students are given the programs needed to thrive, and teachers are paid adequately and supported as an asset in growing our future leaders.

These are your leaders of tomorrow.

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How you decide to support them today will impact their future and the future of your community.