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Candidates challenge school board incumbents in Bigfork, Swan River

by HILARY MATHESON & MACKENZIE REISS
Daily Inter Lake | April 21, 2021 2:20 AM

Ballots were mailed Friday for the Bigfork School election and voters have until May 4 to return their completed ballots either by mail or to the Bigfork School District Office on election day. Voters will decide whether to renew the term of trustee Christina Relyea, who represents the Bigfork Elementary District, for another three years or elect a new representative.

Trustees are volunteers who serve on the school board where they make decisions regarding school budgets and policy. Trustee Dan Elwell’s term also expires in May, but as he faced no opposition, he will continue representing the Swan River area of the Bigfork High School District for another three years. Two candidates are challenging Relyea for her board seat.

Name: Ben Woods

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Ben Woods

Profession: Lake County Undersheriff

Education/community involvement: Bachelor's degree in sociology from Montana State University - Billings; master’s degree in management and leadership through Western Governors University; Team member of the Lake County Adult Drug Court; Law Enforcement Executive Development Association Leadership Trilogy Graduate; Montana Peace Officer Standards and Training - Command Certificate.

Family: Wife, Beth and a son in kindergarten and a daughter in third grade at Bigfork Elementary School

Why are you running?

I was pretty vocal about issues surrounding the school closure. I was not in favor of the continuation of that closure last spring, I was not in favor of the mask mandate, particularly for the smaller children.

Those are the two things that distinguish me from the incumbent I'm running against.

I know a lot of people run for school board because they’re mad at a teacher, coach or administrator, but I don't have an ax to grind with any of those people. I have my opinions but I'm a level headed person.

I was born and raised in Montana. I want to try to preserve what we have here and preserve the reasons why people are coming here.

Name: John Michael Knopik

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John Michael Knopik

Profession: CPA, financial planner with Ascent Wealth Management

Education/community involvement: Bachelor’s degree from Carroll College in accounting and finance; MBA through Colorado State University

Family: Wife, Jennifer, is the school nurse; the couple are Montana natives who have three boys in the Bigfork School District

Why are you running?

There's a couple reasons -- with what I see, the pressures in the labor market are getting so extreme with artificial intelligence and automation — it’s creating a challenging labor market as we go forward. I want to make sure [Bigfork students] have the tools to be successful in tomorrow's job market. I think it’s going to get incredibly competitive.

School funding is going to become much more challenging after this COVID stimulus wears off, so a focus on fiscal efficiency is really important and I think my background in finance would be helpful in navigating those funding challenges.

Name: Christina Relyea

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Christina Relyea

Profession: Professor of natural resources and Director of the Honors Program at Flathead Valley Community College

Education: Bachelor’s degree in microbiology; a master’s degree in zoology and a doctorate in ecology; also holds a teaching license and taught high school while working on her master’s degree; continuing education through workshops and trainings in the educational field

Community involvement: Member of the Bigfork Community United Methodist Church; Bigfork trustee for the past six years

Family: Has one son who is a sophomore at Bigfork High School

Why are you running?

I'm running for the open Bigfork trustee position because I really care about education for all the children in our community and I have many decades of experience in the educational field so I have a lot of knowledge and experience that I can contribute. We have great teachers and staff at Bigfork schools. The Bigfork school system has not been afraid to try new things and I feel that they are always looking for ways to help all the kids be successful. I support all the different pathways a young adult can take upon graduating high school and do not believe in a one size fits all approach. We have a strong track record in students that go into the trades as well as those who go on to college or enter the workforce. The school is fiscally solid and that is not the case for all schools. Every organization faces challenges and as a trustee, I will listen, gather information, and make an informed decision on what I think is best for all the children of the Bigfork community.

The following information is for a contested race in Swan River School District. Four candidates are running for two three-year terms including Luke Adamson and Sherianne Schow, both incumbents, Brianna Anderson and Kim Johnston.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 4 at Swan River School library, 1205 Swan Highway, Bigfork.

Name: Luke Adamson (i)

Occupation: Woodworker/ business owner

Background/experience: Four years on Swan River board; 22 years self-employed in the construction industry; 35 years of volunteer church service, 20 years doing volunteer youth service; two years as a missionary in Brazil; Montana native; father of six.

Why are you running? I am running for another term on the school board because I believe it's my responsibility as an American citizen and as a Montanan to stand up for the principles this country was founded on, and that begins at the most important level, schools.

Name: Sherianne Schow (i)

Occupation: Global Network and community organizer

Background Experience: Elementary and secondary educator; instructional design and curriculum writer with specialization in literacy and language acquisition; locally, I have worked as a substitute teacher for Swan River School as well as a volunteer librarian.

Why are you running? From the eighth-grade Montana trip to basketball games to the Christmas craft days, I have loved being a part of the Swan River School parent community and experiencing the strength that comes from families working together to support school programs. Some of my most rewarding hours have been spent helping children choose books from the library, coaching reading, writing, and projects in each classroom, and engaging in meaningful classroom discussion with Swan River students and faculty. As an incumbent school board supervisor, I am dedicated to supporting parents and families, students and teachers and committed to sharing my experience as an educator and organizer to benefit our Swan River School community.

As the heart of a community, a school has a unique opportunity to invest in the intellectual and social growth of future citizens. I want to help ensure that Swan River School is a safe, productive, and creative environment where children experience productive academic challenges and learn appropriate behaviors that will lead to bright futures. Attention to excellence in academic benchmarks as well as extra-curricular activities will be the my focus to ensure our students stand confident in academics as well as in character.

Name: Brianna Anderson

Occupation: Small business owner

Background/experience: My husband and I have been part of the Bigfork community for almost two decades. I'm a former teacher. I was on the Bigfork Bandits Soccer Board and helped coach. I have volunteered at the theater, decorated Bigfork, cleaned up highways, been a youth group leader and helped at many sporting events in our community.

Why are you running? I have three children who currently attend Swan River School. During these challenging times I think it is important for trustees to be involved in the school on a personal level. The job of a trustee is to represent the families in that district and understand what is occurring at the school. I feel that several of the current trustees are out of touch with the school based on the fact that they don’t have students currently attending the school.

If elected, is there anything you want to see accomplished? Swan River School District is an excellent school for its small rural size. With that being said our valley is growing rapidly in population and I would like to see our school be prepared for potential physical growth as well as academic growth There are many opportunities for grants and funding that the school could use in order to not put the burden on the district taxpayers.

Name: Kimberly Johnston

Background/experience: My professional background includes thirteen years as a registered nurse. I was a captain in the United States Air Force after five years of active duty. I have been a resident of Bigfork for almost six years and currently have three children attending Swan River School. I am the current treasurer of the Swan River Parent Teacher Organization and have been a member for six years. Throughout my volunteer time and involvement with school activities, I have learned about the culture of Swan River and the immense sense of family and community that is unique to our small rural school.

Why are you running? I am running for the school board because I think Swan River is an exceptional school, and I would like to help preserve the current culture of our staff and students. The staff at Swan River encourages high standards for their students both academically and ethically. The parents at Swan River are involved, care about curriculum, and appreciate the atmosphere at Swan River that instills values like making good decisions, encouraging the student's best effort, and being respectful and kind to one another. My goal, should I be elected, would be to help guide decision making to reflect the morals and values of the families who have students enrolled in Swan River. My husband and I will have children enrolled in Swan River School for seven more years, and I hope that in eighth grade, they will still be saying the Pledge of Allegiance every morning and have a sense of pride in their community, feeling united as Swan River students.