Columbia Falls residents got their first look last week at the three finalists vying to be the interim principal at the Junior High School as current principal Dave Wick will be away next year serving as the president of the National Association of Elementary Principals.
Parents, teachers and the public were invited to a forum at the Junior High Cafeteria Wednesday, April 3 for the chance to meet, question and get to know the three candidates.
Shaun Forrest is currently the principal at Evergreen Elementary as was previously the principal of the middle school there. Forrest is no stranger to Columbia Falls, having taught physical education and served as a football and track coach at the High School from 2008-11. Forrest is also a trained crisis prevention instructor and his wife teaches math at Flathead High School.
Forrest said he enjoyed being a middle school principal in Evergreen and would like to have the opportunity to be one again in Columbia Falls. He said that junior high students are at a special age when teachers can make a big difference in their lives.
“I like the middle school level because you are still able to build relationships and make impressions on students. Middle school students still seek out relationships with adults, where it can be hard to break through that barrier at the high school level,” he said. “Also, the culture in middle schools tends to be more positive. It seems that those at the high school level become teachers because they love their subject, and teaching comes along with it. At the middle school level, teachers like to work with the kids.”
Doug Hazen is currently the middle school principal in Lovell, Wyoming, where he also serves as the head football coach and special education director. Hazen has been a middle school principal for six years and was previously a high school math teacher in the same district. Hazen is close to completing his superintendent certificate and is working on a doctorate in education.
Hazen said that the middle school years are an important time in a child’s life when they need strong role models and guidance.
“You have to be a little cheesy sometimes to work with middle school kids and have a good sense of humor. They are going to do things that nobody can explain, things that are stranger than fiction that no one can make up,” Hazen said. “I think there is a bigger difference between a sixth and an eighth grader than between a freshman and a senior in high school. I think it is a unique, special time in life when a kid needs good educators.”
Dana Hashley is currently the middle school and high school principal at Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell, but says he was already planning to leave that position at the end of this school year to look for a new and different opportunity. Hashley has been in education for 26 years in Idaho and Montana, including the last 17 at Stillwater Christian, where he has served as principal for the past six years.
“In November, I told my school I was not going to be coming back and that I am looking for a change. I am excited about Columbia Falls and to see what happens,” Hashley said. “I like being a principal and I want to remain a principal. I am excited about the possibility of being here in Columbia Falls, even if it is only for one year. I want to be a part of something that is good. We are here to help students figure life out, what they want and who they are. It’s great to be a part of that.”
All three candidates said they are excited about the possibility of stepping into a position where the school is already doing well and that they hope to bring continued success to Columbia Falls Junior High School.
“From what we have heard today, the strength of this school is the staff. I think that fitting in well with that staff is going to be a vital part of the transition here as the school gets a new principal,” Hazen said. “We have big shoes to fill here, but there are already great educators already in place that care. That will make any transition that much easier.”
“I don’t think any of want a rebuilding project at this point of our careers and that’s why this job is so appealing,” Forrest added.
All three also said they hope the position may wind up being more than just a one-year, temporary job and School District 6 Superintendent Steve Bradshaw said that may be a possibility.
“I have made it know publicly that I am retiring after next year and Dave Wick has expressed an interest in becoming the superintendant and that possibility exists,” Bradshaw said. “That will of course depend on what the school board decides. In all honesty, though, all principal jobs are technically one-year positions. That’s just the nature of the beast.”