Mark Thane

Mark Thane

Nine out of 10 Missoula County Public Schools trustees present voted in favor of offering an interim superintendent contract worth $145,000 to Mark Thane.

Several audience members spoke highly of Thane before the interview began at Sentinel High School on Wednesday evening.

"He is Missoula. He is MCPS," said Sheri Postma, president of MMCEO, the union which represents the district's classified workers.

"I hope that that's a reflection of the value that I place on relationships," Thane said about the supportive comments afterward.

Thane currently serves as the human resources director for the district and is the only candidate who applied for the one-year, interim superintendent position that was posted internally earlier this month.

The job became open when Superintendent Alex Apostle announced he was leaving MCPS for a job in Washington.

Thane said his acceptance of the post will depend on the contract, but added he looks forward to the opportunities the position will present.

"I'm a glass half full kind of guy," he told trustees.

The Missoula native is a product of MCPS and received undergraduate and graduate degrees of the University of Montana. His education career has spanned more than 30 years and he has held positions throughout the district as a teacher and administrator, as well as worked as principal at Target Range School District.

If he takes the district's helm, his first priority will be establishing a working relationship with trustees, Thane said, adding the believes constructive dissent is beneficial to the decision making process but the board also must be efficient to take care of business.

Another top priority is building community support and understanding of the proposed $88 million elementary district and $70 million high school district bond measures.

"It's well past time," he said about the need for updated buildings.

Thane has experience with several building projects, including a bond measure at Target Range School District and an expansion project at C.S. Porter Middle School.

He added he would reach out to feeder school districts, such as Hellgate Elementary and Target Range to engage them in the bond measure issues, as well as in the larger district.

Currently, students from outlying districts participate in freshman orientation, but there are not many other avenues for them to learn more about or be engaged in MCPS.

"And I would like to see that change," Thane said.

***

During the interview, Thane also said that district tenets, such as the district's overarching goals, should be routinely reviewed to make sure they are being met and are relevant.

Specialized programs, such as career academies, are important to engage students, Thane said.

"We need to engage students differently than we have in the past," he said.

However, programs must be evaluated to make sure that they are meeting district goals and contributing to student achievement. Program implementation also must be evaluated, Thane said.

After fixed costs and employee pay and benefits are covered, the district does not have many discretionary funds and so outside funding sources are important to help fund innovative programs, such as career academies, Thane said.

Although the funding that the Shape P20 grant has provided for starting several programs – including the Spanish dual-language immersion program at Paxson Elementary School – is not guaranteed long-term, it has provided for materials and professional development, he said.

"None of that training goes away," he added.

His guiding principle throughout his tenure as superintendent would be personal integrity and Thane said he wants to be able to hold his head high knowing he did his job to the best of his ability.

"The students who we serve are the children of my friends, neighbors," he said.

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Board chairman Joseph Knapp Jr. cast the lone nay vote, saying the offer did not go far enough to support Thane and the difficult decisions he will have to make as superintendent. Rather, Knapp suggested the board consider offering Thane the interim contract with the explicit understanding that if Thane's performance over the coming school year is up to par that he would receive a longer-term contract.

"I just wanted to make a point," Knapp said about his vote, adding he has confidence in Thane's ability to competently fill the post.

Looking outside of MCPS for a long-term superintendent when trustees already have a qualified, compassionate and passionate person for the job is a waste of resources, said Carleen Hathaway, secretary of MMCEO.

"The man is amazing," she said, adding he looks at problems as opportunities and does what's best for students.

"It has to be about the community and the students and the staff," she said.

If Thane accepts the position, a formal contract will go before trustees for approval during their regular May meeting.

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