Candidates for school chief and SD2 workers get to know each other

2010-03-01T22:49:00Z Candidates for school chief and SD2 workers get to know each otherDIANE COCHRAN Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
March 01, 2010 10:49 pm  • 

Three of the five candidates for School District 2 superintendent kicked the job’s tires on Monday with tours of school buildings and a full slate of meetings with people who work in all parts of the school system.

By 8 a.m., two of the job seekers were headed into their second meeting of the day, and all three had appointments scheduled past 5 p.m.

After that, Keith Beeman, Keith Meyer and Cole Pugh were set for formal interviews with the School Board. Candidates Eric Ely and Scott Rogers are to be interviewed today.

All five candidates met with members of the public on Sunday night.

They are vying for the job that has been held since March 2006 by Jack Copps. Copps, 72, announced in November that he would retire at the end of the school year.

Meyer, of Helena, began his day at the Billings Education Association office, where he met with members of the three unions that represent teachers and other district employees.

Union members wanted to hear about Meyer’s experience with collective bargaining and get a sense of his leadership style. They also asked what he would do to convince Billings voters to pass a mill levy.

Meyer described himself as a listener and a collaborator, not a micromanager.

“I know how to roll up my sleeves and work with the best,” he said.

Pugh’s day began at Orchard Elementary, where Principal Mark Venner spoke frankly about the challenges confronting his students.

Almost 90 percent of them qualify for free or reduced-price meals, and many struggle with schoolwork. Orchard has not met government standards set out in the No Child Left Behind Act for two years, Venner said.

Still, students are proud of their school, he said. Vandals who paint graffiti the neighborhood stop at school property.

“It’s a very nice facility,” said Pugh, who is from Fort Worth, Texas. “Obviously, they’ve done a lot of work on it. There’s a challenging student population here, but there seems to be a lot of pride in the school.”

Meanwhile, Beeman, of Southern California, was meeting with middle school principals and other secondary-education administrators.

They asked about his understanding of school budgets and how he makes difficult decisions. They also wanted to hear his philosophy on No Child Left Behind, which requires students to make certain learning gains each year. The measure is called Adequate Yearly Progress.

“When a government mandates students succeed at XYZ level, they’re saying the outcome for each student must be equal,” Beeman said. “We’re people. We’re not widgets. We’re not automobiles. We’re not manufactured.”

“I can’t always lose sleep over AYP,” he said. “What I can lose sleep over is whether our third-graders are reading at a third-grade level or if that eighth-grader is ready to transition to ninth grade.”

Contact Diane Cochran at or 657-1287.

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