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Nine candidates are vying for three open Bozeman School District seats in the May election, one of the largest number of candidates in recent years.

The school board terms for Trustees Douglas Fischer, Gary Lusin and Wendy Tage expire this year, and all three have decided to run again, along with six challengers.

Chairperson Sandy Wilson’s term also ends this year and Wilson is the only candidate to file for the high school district seat.

Ballots are scheduled to be mailed by the County Election Office on April 16 and are due by 8 p.m. on May 4. Ballots can be returned by mail or in person from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to the County Election Office at 311 W. Main St., Room 210. The office is scheduled be open on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Various organizations are hosting candidate forums in the next few weeks including the Bozeman Task Force to Advance the Status and Safety of All Women and Girls virtually at 7 p.m. on April 19, and Bozeman Chamber of Commerce at 11 a.m. on April 20.

The Chronicle will profile the nine candidates for the elementary seats in three stories.

Lei-Anna Bertelsen, challenger

Lei-Anna Bertelsen

Lei-Anna Bertelsen, a 2021 candidate for Bozeman School Board

Lei-Anna Bertelsen has been involved in education since becoming a teacher in 1989, teaching at the elementary and middle school levels including in the Bozeman School District.

Most recently, she has been a professional facilitator at Illustrative Mathematics, where she works with teachers to implement new math curriculum throughout the country.

“It has helped me understand education in a different light, and has only increased my appreciation for what we have here in Bozeman,” she said.

Bertelsen has considered running for school board for the past five years, but said this last year pushed her to run because she saw the hard work and dedication in K-12 public schools.

“There are such high expectations of what we expect from our teachers,” she said. “How do we help teachers the best way we can, to do what they’re required to do?”

Bertelsen, who’s lived in Bozeman for the past three decades, said serving as a board member is an opportunity to continue her work serving the public schools in a different way.

“When I listen to things, I think who’s being impacted, who are the voices we’re hearing and who are the voices we’re not hearing,” she said.

Bertelsen said the district is beginning to find stability after the past year in the pandemic and there’s a lot of lessons learned it can carry forward. One example is creating the Bozeman Online Charter School after finding success in a remote-only K-8 school, Bertelsen said.

“I really believe time and again that when we invest in our children that’s the number one investment we could make in our future,” she said.

Looking forward, Bertelsen sees the district needing to address rapid growth in Bozeman.

“One of the things I think about is with growth and the cost of living in Bozeman, are we going to be able to attract and retain teachers?” she said. “… As we grow there’s all the different growing pains.”

Bertelsen said in the 30 years she’s been in Bozeman, each school has created its on personality and community and as the district continues to grow, she wants to see those school communities have every resource to serve their students in the unique needs they’re faced with.

“I want to make sure all voices are heard and included and we’re looking out for students,” she said. “… How do we make sure everyone feels supported and things are equitable for all students?”

Bertelsen said her experience on the committee vetting and selecting the new Bozeman Police Chief would aid her in selecting the next superintendent. She said she would look for candidates who understand Bozeman and have a leadership style with a vision, including the ability to work with the leaders already in the district.

Bertelsen, whose children went through the Bozeman School District, said she would bring her experience and passion to the school board.

“As a woman of color, as a former teacher, as a current facilitator and as a parent, this has been my life’s work,” she said. “It would be a privilege to be a part of that conversation, to be a part of that process to set some of those policies to help our district continue to grow and succeed in the ways I think it can,” Bertelsen said.

Douglas Fischer, incumbent

Douglas Fischer

Douglas Fischer, a 2021 candidate for Bozeman School Board

Douglas Fischer is running for his third term, having served as a board member since 2015. In a third term, he said he wants to get back to improving education for Bozeman kids, especially following the past year in the pandemic.

“Coming off of a really turbulent year, I want to help get us back to stability and get us back focused on education and kids,” Fischer said. “There’s been a tremendous amount of hurt with kids and in the community with teachers and we need to repair that and find all of those kids we have lost and close any kind of COVID gap.”

The biggest priority facing the district is making sure educators catch all the students who have disengaged from school, dropped out or “are hurting right now,” Fischer said. He said he wants to continue to be a bridge between the community, what the community expects from its educators and what educators need from the community.

“I’ve never come in with an agenda. The only agenda I’ve had is to make sure every kid emerges from our school district with an education that prepares them for the future. And that ‘every’ is the most important word.”

During the past year navigating the board and district through the pandemic, Fischer said people have disagreed with various decisions.

“For me as a trustee, it’s been a year of really listening carefully to what parents are saying in totality, not just who’s the loudest voice in the room or who’s in my circle. But trying to get as wide a sense of what the community is saying and then also listening very carefully to what our teachers and our district administrators and nurses are saying and trying to find some kind of balance there,” he said.

After six years in the district, reelection would set the stage for Fisher’s second time participating in a superintendent search. The first was for Bob Connors, whose contract ended early after a school board vote to terminate Connors’ employment following a reported incident of verbal assault.

“The vote to buy out Bob Connors’ contract and go with new leadership was the hardest and most bitter vote I’ve cast as a trustee,” he said. “I want us to be really careful this time. I thought we were careful the first time. We just need to be extra careful the second time because it still stings.”

Fischer said he would be focused on protecting the district while ensure it hired the best candidate.

In order to build community trust in the district and school board back after the past year, Fischer said it would take communication, empathy, listening, work and steadiness to reassure parents that the board and district has the best interest of students in mind and the resources to provide the best education.

“I bring experience and I think we’re going to need that as we look for a new superintendent and as we try to bring those kids back,” Fischer said. “I’m an empathetic, listener and I can take what the community hears and I can take what I hear from educators and make sure our education system meets those demands.”

Jennifer Lammers, challenger

Jennifer Lammers

Jennifer Lammers, a 2021 candidate for Bozeman School Board

Jennifer Lammers has been involved with the district since her family moved to Bozeman in 2016, including parent associations and a district-wide safety committee.

In addition to being involved in district committees, Lammers is also the board president of One Valley Community Foundation, served as a member of the Bridger Foothills Fire Relief Fund committee and the COVID-19 response fund.

“It feels like an extension of the work I’ve been doing for the last four years,” Lammers said of becoming a board member, adding she has insight into the district from her work and connections with administrators, teachers and families.

Lammers said one of her priorities as a board member would be building connections and community for families who are in need of additional support in certain areas but might not know the district offers it.

“There’s a great need, and I think our parents felt it more over the last year, of understanding how the school district works and how they can engage,” she said.

Lammers said her background in information sharing would help streamline the process of connecting students and families to resources the district already offers and highlight those it could develop.

“One of the things I would look at is how is the board integrated into the community communication and find the appropriate ways for them to be involved and more accessible,” she said.

It will become even more important for the district to have a “nimble and responsive system” as the city continues to grow rapidly, Lammers said.

“I think that’s harder and harder to maintain but I do think that is a crucial element when we’re considering where to open the new potential elementary school,” she said.

The district has been good so far at ensuring school locations are scattered throughout the center of town and keeping schools from becoming too imbalanced, Lammers said.

“You care more if the person is hungry or not able to read, if it’s your classmate and not someone else at another school. It brings people together from across the spectrum,” she said. “Being able to provide that grows in exponential importance as we have more people moving in.”

Lammers said she was involved in the search process to hire high school principals Dan Mills and Erica Schnee, and that experience would help her in the superintendent search. The timing of the announcement and launch of the search will be an important part in the process to ensure the district has a quality pool of candidates, whether internal or external, she said.

She said she would look for someone that has a big picture understanding of the needs and diversity of issues facing the district, including what it can do “to build the bridge between the haves and have-nots.” Strong communication skills with all stakeholders would also be on her list of qualities in a candidate.

Whether elected or not, Lammers said education in the school district is a passion for her.

“I have been attempting to problem solve or volunteer or help to be a part of the solution for as long as we’ve been here,” she said. “… I want everyone’s kids to have the best experiences possible.”

Correction: This story has been updated to say Douglas Fischer is running for his third term as a school board trustee.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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