Whitefish Schools Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt says family is behind her decision to look for work outside of Whitefish.
Davis Schmidt announced her intentions to leave Whitefish Schools in an opinion piece in the Pilot.
“Over the last 18 months, my own personal family situation has changed significantly, in a direction that my husband and I never anticipated,” she wrote. “After much reflection, I have made the difficult decision that my current contract, which expires June 30, 2021, will be my final contract with Whitefish Schools. Coming to this decision is difficult because of how much I care about all of our students, teachers, support staff, administrators, families, and the community of Whitefish.”
Davis Schmidt told the Pilot she’ll be looking for work in the Missoula area, where her husband works.
Leaving Whitefish was anything but an easy decision, she said.
“It was a difficult decision, as I pointed out to everybody. It was very emotional for me to have to make the decision. But when I started here I always said I would be here for about four to five years, and it’s hard to believe I’m in my fourth year now,” she said.
Davis Schmidt joined the school district in July 2015. Previously she was the executive regional director at Missoula County Public Schools. She was also curriculum and Title I director at Missoula County Schools, and the dean of students and administrative intern at Big Sky High School in Missoula. She taught at Seeley-Swan High School from 2002 to 2007. She has a doctorate and master’s from the University of Montana.
Moving to Whitefish to be superintendent was a natural progression for her, she said, and one she was excited about.
“Whitefish has always had an excellent reputation for education across the state of Montana. I was in a position in Missoula where I was interested in moving to the next level and challenging myself and this seemed like the right next step,” she said.
Community is what makes small towns like Whitefish special, Davis Schmidt said.
“I really enjoy working in a small community. I’ve enjoyed working with the leadership that we have here, not only the governance through the board of trustees but also through the administrators and teacher leaders. I think it’s been a real opportunity for us to grow as a community and for me to feel the embrace of the Whitefish community,” she said.
Whitefish is an involved community as well, she noted.
Two Whitefish School Board meetings this fall included public comments from frustrated parents of students who were concerned about wavering test scores and what they see as shaky relationships between staff and administration.
Davis Schmidt said those frustrations and the conversations that arose as a result didn’t make her decision directly, and she’s happy to have a community of active and engaged parents.
“I actually made the decision to leave before that, I just had not decided, ‘When’s the right time to tell people.’ And probably that played a role in my timing, but it didn’t play a role in my decision,” she said. “[Parent involvement] is a good thing. There’s some school communities where you can not get parent engagement at all, and that’s far more difficult and far more frustrating.”
Overall, Davis Schmidt said she’s proud of her time thus far at Whitefish Schools and thankful for the relationships she’s been able to build.
Her biggest accomplishment, she says, is being part of a community effort to build a new school.
“I think probably the greatest legacy I hope that comes from my time here is a new Muldown Elementary School [building.] It’s a much-needed asset for the Whitefish community,” she said. “We had a group of community members that rallied together to make that a reality, and I’m proud to have been a part of that.”
As for what’s next, Davis Schmidt said she doesn’t know. She’ll be applying for similar school administration jobs once positions open, and she hopes that if she does find work elsewhere the Whitefish School Board will release her from her contract, which runs through 2021.
However, she says until that happens, she’s still here and working for Whitefish students.
“This isn’t goodbye yet,” she said.