by Brett Clark
Helena is fortunate to have several qualified School Board Trustee candidates to choose from as we vote in the coming weeks. Annie Hanshew, however, stands apart as the candidate best suited for the job.
I have known Annie for nearly 20 years. I met her as a competitor in high school debate. When we both joined Carroll Debate in college, our coach Don Pogreba paired us together as a team. I’ve had the privilege of counting Annie as a friend ever since. Anyone who knows her personally will tell you she is both intelligent and thoughtful. She has experience as an educator at the University of Utah and Carroll College as well as the calm, sober temperament of a historian. Except for six years of graduate school in Salt Lake City, she has lived here her entire life. More than simply saying she cares for Helena, she shows it by donating her time to groups like the Original Governor’s Mansion Restoration Society, the Montana Wilderness Association, Great Pyrenees Rescue, Montana, and the Montana History Foundation. She also gives free public talks on everything from quilts to smokejumpers.
The debate over the fate of Central School has unfortunately been a divisive one. Helena values its history and the demolition of a landmark like Central has been difficult for many to accept. Annie hoped to preserve Central, but the City and School Board decided to move forward with construction of a new facility. Annie accepts the decision and enthusiastically supports the school bond, but Helenans have remain split over the decision. A significant number of those who favor preservation and remember the devastation of urban renewal in Helena are skeptical of the bond.
In my opinion, this is where Annie has shown how she will serve Helena as a trustee. Rather than stake out a position in favor of preservation or demolition, Annie has sought to find a compromise that will get Helenans on board with a new facility while at the same time preserving Central’s history. Why not incorporate some of Central’s original features and materials into the new building rather than sending them off to the landfill? We can have the best of both options—keep the history but provide Central students with a new and improved place for learning. Carroll College is striking the same balance with the construction of its new chapel using the original stone from the St. Charles Old North wing, which the chapel will replace. Annie’s advocacy for preserving select architectural aspects of Central in a new building is persuading many to support the school bond. Regardless of the outcome of the School Board election, Annie’s work and ideas may play a pivotal role in the passage of the bond.
Annie Hanshew listens to all sides and looks for creative solutions to bring Helenans together. Central School is not the last divisive education issue this city will face in the coming years. There is much work to be done as Helena upgrades its facilities, deals with a shifting population, and chooses a new school superintendent. As the School Board faces these issues, Annie’s creative, analytical approach to these issues will prove to be a tremendous asset.
Brett Clark is a Helena attorney.