Cahill, GFPS board chairman, has died

Jan Cahill, chairman of the Great Falls Public Schools Board of Trustees, died June 8.

Cahill has served on the school board since 2005 and been the chairman since 2014. He was selected as chairman again during a late May school board meeting. He was also the superintendent of Vaughn Public School and an active member of the Montana School Boards Association.

According to GFPS, his wife, Angie, and son, Robert, were with him, along with Chaplain Richard Brennan. His daughter, April, was able to video conference with them from England.

The family has set up a GoFundMe account.

“As of this morning, our beloved father and sweet gentle educator passed away. Jan would ask you all to live life to the fullest and cherish your community and friends. We are beyond grateful for all of the love and support. Our hearts are full, and we can’t thank you all enough,” the family said in a post.

According to the family, Cahill had a health incident on June 7 and was taken to ICU at Benefis Health System.

Fellow board member Bill Bronson said that, “it was very sudden and took us all by great surprise.”

Cahill was “one of those guys that you’re glad to say that you need him,” Bronson said. “Jan just had a calmness about him that allowed him to deal with the most difficult situations and we all admired that about him.”

Kim Skornogoski, fellow board member, said that Cahill was helpful when she came onto the board in 2017 with his experience, understanding and willingness to support the new board members as they learned.

His longtime experience in public education was invaluable to the district, she said, and the other board members since he would help explain how school financing worked and had connections with others in the education sector that were helpful.

Cahill also had experience as an educator and a superintendent so he understand what it takes to run a functional school system, Skornogoski said.

“There’s just so much knowledge and experience that Jan brought to the table that the rest of us really relied upon to make our board work,” she said. “A lot of the nuts and bolts relied on Jan being a functional backbone.”

Skornogoski said that Cahill always reached out and encouraged her, even when they disagreed.

“He always appreciated different perspectives and having somebody that just cared,” she said.

Cahill’s death has been a shock to many board members and district staff, but his impact will be felt for years to come, she said.

“If you think about it, Jan has had a hand in hiring at least the last three superintendents, which does more to guide the direction of our school district than any other decision that we make. Clearly his legacy will continue on,” Skornogoski said. “His stamp on Great Falls public education is immense.”

Bronson said the district is giving the family time and space to grieve, but will work with them for any memorial services for Cahill.

Mark Finnicum, fellow board member, said that in his time on the board for the last two years, “I found him to always be a friendly, helpful human being. I had never heard him talk badly about anyone. The board will certainly miss the many years of experience that he brought to the table, we always relied on him. That guy was a wealth of knowledge that’s going to be hard to replace. You just can’t fill those shoes.”

Later this summer, the district will likely accept applications to fill the vacancy on the board and the board will choose someone to appoint, Bronson said.

Under state law, the board will appoint someone to serve until the next election in May 2022 to fill the remainder of Cahill’s term through 2023, according to the county elections office.

In an email to members, Lance Melton, director of the Montana School Boards Association, said that Cahill had served on the MTSBA board on behalf of GFPS since 2006, one of the longest stints in the history of the organization.

“Jan was an amazing friend and leader and has meant so much to MTSBA and public education in Montana.  From school superintendent, school board member, nonprofit director, advocate, officer and president of MTSBA, and most recently stepping up to become the executive director of the Montana Small School Alliance, few can claim as extensive a commitment to public education as Jan has demonstrated over the course of his career. Jan did not miss a single MTSBA Board meeting in the 15 years he served,” Melton wrote. “As impressive as Jan’s professional credentials are, they pale in comparison to the generosity, kindness, humor and friendship Jan extended to so many of us over the many years we shared together. Jan was a mentor, champion and advocate for many. The amazing friendships Jan forged with fellow MTSBA directors, trustees and administrative leaders across the state will be long remembered. He lit up the room with his smile.”