My Helena School Board Endorsements: Muszkiewicz and Hanshew

Given the speed with which people have already begun posting their ballots on social media, this endorsement, limited in its impact as it may be, might also be a little late. My apologies for not getting to my endorsements sooner.

This election, to determine two School Board trustees, is a momentous one. The two members leaving the Board, Aidan Myhre and Cherche Prezeau have offered excellent leadership to the Board and have worked diligently to get a critical bond passed to begin to address the many problems of our elementary schools, schools which have simply been neglected for too long. The trustees who replace them will have big shoes to fill, and the community owes a debt of gratitude to Myhre and Prezeau for their service to the district and its students.

When thinking about candidates to replace them, I found myself thinking about what are the most pressing issues facing the district. The two largest, in my mind, are the likely need to find a new superintendent in the next few years and transitioning from this first bond into a long-term vision to service all of Helena’s schools. While Superintendent Copps has been an incredible breath of fresh air in the district, he never really seemed interested in a long-term commitment, and the district will almost certainly be looking for a new leader during the term of the next board members. And this bond, slow in the making as it’s been and controversial as it’s proven to be, is only the beginning. The district is in dire need of a long-term vision to ensure that all our students have quality facilities and only a coordinated, community-driven plan will make that happen.

So how do we get there? By electing people who will listen and people willing to invest the mental energy into dissecting complex problems. In a field of excellent candidates, many of who seem likely to become excellent trustees, two candidates stand out as people who will listen and act decisively on the information presented to them. Those candidates are Luke Muszkiewicz and Annie Hanshew.

Through his varied and deep experience in the School District as a coach, parent, and volunteer, Luke has demonstrated a willingness to dig into the problems facing the district with an open mind and positive attitude. In the years I’ve known Luke, I’ve always admired his genuine interest in finding common ground to solve divisive issues and his willingness to listen to multiple points of view before making decisions. Luke has thrown himself into learning about the district, visiting schools and attending board meetings to learn about the opportunities and challenges present in each of our buildings. I’m confident that he will work on the board to build consensus and act decisively in the interest of our students. Luke will the ideal kind of person serving on the board: a parent who recognizes, as he told me, that the most important policy decisions the board can make are not for our most advantaged students, but for those the district needs to pay the most attention to. He’ll be a passionate advocate for all of Helena’s students, and never forget the families and students who are most in need.

My second endorsement in the race is for a candidate who also graduated from the Helena School District, even if she debated for the wrong high school when I was coaching. Annie Hanshew has also thrown herself into understanding the unique needs of Helena’s schools, touring the facilities and speaking to their leaders to understand where those schools are and where they’d like to be. Annie is incredibly bright and has always possessed the kind of thinking that drives her to thoroughly research a situation before acting. Her academic achievement and background will offer crucial insight to District decisions. There have been times in the past few years when the District has acted without all the evidence necessary to make the best decision, and I am confident that Annie will make sure that everyone sees (and reads) the research before they leap. And that’s incredibly important. I have also been impressed by Annie’s position on Central School. While a strong proponent of preserving the existing building, I appreciate her commitment to support the bond which is so necessary not only for the kids at Central, but those at Darcy and Bryant as well.

The challenges the district will face in the next ten years will require the vision and intellect of incisive thinkers who understand that many of the issues we face demand rapid action, not endless discussion. The board needs more voices who will push District administrators and demand that they provide evidentiary support for the programs, facilities, and policies in the District. With their fine minds and commitment to public education, I can’t think of two better candidates than Luke and Annie.

I hope you’ll consider giving them your support.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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