Kohnstamm running to bring fresh perspectives to board

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Betsy Kohnstamm is seeking her first term on the Whitefish School Board.

As newcomer candidate for one of two open seats on the Whitefish School Board, Betsy Kohnstamm says she provides a different perspective.

“It’s something I’ve considered for a long time,” Kohnstamm told the Pilot. “I didn’t run earlier because my husband worked for the school district — it’s too hard to be on the school board when you have a spouse that’s an employee. My whole life I’ve been interested in education, both inside and outside public schools. It’s a natural fit for me.”

Kohnstamm helped found the nonprofit North Valley Music School. She’s lived in Whitefish for 31 years and has been involved in various school-related functions, teaching as a reading specialist for 10 years in the Columbia Falls School District and also serving as administrator and vice president of the board for the Montessori School in Whitefish. She attended Middlebury College in Vermont for her undergraduate degree and obtained a masters degree in curriculum and instruction from the Columbia Teacher’s College in New York. She and her husband Dan, who retired last year as the high school librarian in Whitefish, have had two kids go through Whitefish Schools.

Kohnstamm noted some of the big issues facing the district, like the construction of a new Muldown Elementary School and realizing the potential for the Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship, which opens this Saturday, but said as a whole, the district has a unique challenge in the demographics it serves.

“I think one of the big challenges has to do with living in this resort economy that we have in this town. So we have children coming into the school district who are from very different backgrounds — people have moved here with a lot of money and college education, and then we’ve got people who are here because their parents are making beds in the motels,” she said. “It’s the way this whole nation is going, this stratification of economy, so that’s a challenge for the district, serving both ends of the spectrum really well.”

Helping those on the lower end of the income spectrum is a sort of personal mission for Kohnstamm.

She noted positive moves by the district, like contracting with the nonprofit organization Intermountain for day treatment programs for students with mental, social and emotional needs.

She even has a program idea she’s discussed with District Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt and wants to bring to the board — the Bookmobile.

The Bookmobile would bring reading programs to the homes of students who might not be able to make it to summer school or would otherwise need extra help with literacy skills, she explains.

“Instead of having summer school for kids who are a little behind, it’s more fun. It’s a vehicle that goes to each child’s driveway. You pull up, you have an appointment with a kid, and you bring books and do something right there with the child,” she said.

Kohnstamm added that in places where something similar has been implemented, students returning to school in the fall have avoided the summer slide and kept their test scores up despite the three-month break.

While she knows she’s the newcomer, Kohnstamm says her perspective is different and beneficial to the board.

She has experience in different kinds of education in different locations, and all of her experiences put together make her a good candidate to represent Whitefish schools.

“Before we moved here, I taught at about six other states in the U.S., so I’ve had a lot of perspectives from places. I’ve taught in rural districts, where I’ve taught three grades at once in really tiny schools, and then I’ve also been a literacy coach in New York City, so I’ve seen urban education,” she said.

“I just think it’s time for a little different perspective.”

There are three candidates seeking two positions for three-year terms on the board. Election Day is May 8. Voting is at the district office at Whitefish Middle School.

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