Educator looking to move on after 30 years in Helena

SD2 superintendent candidate
2010-02-26T22:11:00Z Educator looking to move on after 30 years in HelenaED KEMMICK Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
February 26, 2010 10:11 pm  • 

After a 30-year career in the Helena public school system, Keith Meyer is looking to move up to the superintendent’s chair in the biggest school district in Montana.

When Jack Copps announced that he was retiring as the Billings superintendent at the end of the school year, Meyer said, it just seemed like a good time to take on a bigger challenge in his career without having to leave the state.

“We have a lot of connections and a lot of good friends in Billings,” Meyer said. His wife, Katie, has been a Helena teacher for 33 years, currently teaching at Helena Middle School.

Meyer, 54, a native of Fairfield, just northwest of Great Falls, is one of five finalists for the Billings job.

In the course of his career, Meyer said, he has worked closely with Billings educators, including central office staff members and principals, and he is familiar with some of the challenges facing School District 2.

Helena voters have been much more prone than their counterparts in Billings to approve school mill levy requests over the years, Meyer said, and the dynamics of the two cities are quite different.

Helena relies heavily on state and federal government employment, he said, which probably makes residents more receptive to levy requests, while Billings is more of a business and commercial town, less inclined to pass tax increases.

If he were the superintendent in Billings, Meyer said, his job would be to connect with the community and to emphasize the link between a good educational system and the strength of the local economy. When individuals or businesses are considering a move to a new town, he said, the quality of the schools is an important consideration.

Meyer said he would also work with civic leaders and “movers and shakers” to build support for School District 2, in which he said he would be following the lead of Copps.

“Jack has done a great job of moving out into the community,” he said.

Michael O’Neil, chairman of the Helena school board, described Meyer as “really a social person” who is energized by working with other people. Besides being a leader in the school district, O’Neil said, Meyer is active in the community as well, serving on the boards of the YMCA and the symphony.

O’Neil said Billings’ gain would be Helena’s loss but that moving up to the superintendent job in Billings would be a “logical choice” at this point in Meyer’s career.

Perhaps the strongest point in Meyer’s favor, O’Neil said, is that he has spent his whole life in Montana and understands the complexity of school financing and what factors underlie support for schools in various parts of the state.

“It’s not like he’s learning this on the plane ride into town,” he said.

Meyer said his main role in the Helena district, which has about 8,000 students, a little more than half the number in School District 2, has been to be “the go-to guy,” freeing up Superintendent Bruce Messinger to attend to the big-picture issues, including lobbying at the state Legislature.

Meyer said his job was “keeping the ship afloat, of keeping the district going on a day-to-day basis.”

If cuts do need to be made in the Billings district, Meyer said, his task will be work with the board to decide what the district’s core mission is and then set funding priorities based on that mission.

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