GFPS board sets plan to fill vacancy; remembers Cahill during meeting

The Great Falls Public Schools school board created a committee during their June 14 meeting to review applications for the vacancy created by the death of longtime member and board chair Jan Cahill.

The open position will be publicly advertised with instructions for applying, which will also be posted to the GFPS website.

Applications for the position will be accepted until 4 p.m. June 25.

Memorial service for Jan Cahill is June 17

The committee will screen the application materials by July 7 and select semifinalists for interviews, which are tentatively scheduled for July 12 and July 13.

The committee, which includes trustees Bill Bronson and Kim Skornogoski, Superintendent Tom Moore and Brian Patrick, GFPS director of business operations, will make a recommendation to the full school board at their July 19 meeting, according to GFPS.

Cahill, GFPS board chairman, has died

Under board policies and Montana law, when there’s a vacancy on the school board, the remaining trustees must appoint a “competent person” within 60 days.

During their June 14 meeting, the board selected Jeff Gray as the chairman of the board and Gordon Johnson as vice chair. Both will serve a one-year term in those roles.

The board, staff and community also took time during the June 14 meeting to share stories about Cahill who had served on the board since 2005 and died June 8.

Moore said, “I will truly miss him as a trustee and an advisor and a friend.”

Cahill had served as a teacher in Belt Public Schools from 1979 to 1985; a principal in Cut Bank from 1985-87; superintendent for various small school districts from 1987-2003; director of Quality of Life Concepts from 2003-2009; executive director of Montana Association of Community Disability Services from 2009-2011; superintendent at small districts from 2011-2021, most recently as Vaughn Public Schools superintendent from 2015-2021; and a member of the Montana School Boards Association from 2005-2021.

Susan Wolff, outgoing director of Great Falls College MSU, said that she felt the “deepest sadness that swept over me,” when Moore told her the news.  “Just think how fortunate we’ve been to have that man leading our public schools.”

Ruth Uecker, assistant superintendent for elementary education said that “his heart and soul was poured into public education. He always stood behind as a loyal advocate for those of us in public education. He was a good man, I’m going to miss him dearly.”

Stephanie Schneider, the new GFPS Foundation director, said that while her experience with Cahill was limited as she started with the district about six months ago, that she was impressed with his candor and respecting those with differing opinions.

“He had such an awesome way of honoring people’s dignity and that’s something I will miss,” she said.

Karen Brandvold, chairman of the GFPS Foundation, said, “He’s the most gracious, accepting individual. He’s such a masterful storyteller. We will miss him.”

District staff placed flowers and a full fountain soda cup, as he often had during meetings, at Cahill’s seat at the board table for the June 14 meeting.

Brandvold said when she walked into the room and say those items, “It was hard. It is such a loss for the community.”

Lance Boyd, director of student services, said that when he was offered the administrative role, he wasn’t sure he could do it, but Cahill came to visit him at Roosevelt Elementary and said, “it’s a big job, but you do big jobs.”

He said that in the middle of everything going on, especially during COVID, he’d get periodic emails from Cahill asking how it was going and if he needed anything.

Dave Crum, outgoing GFPS Foundation director, said he knew Cahill early on when their daughters played tennis at the same time and Crum was coaching.

He joked that he wasn’t sure if Cahill understood much about tennis, but he’d pull him aside to ask questions about the game and equipment.

“I always respect parents that show up for their kids. Their kids know that. That’s the way Jan was, he was very proud of his children. That’s what I’m going to remember about Jan.”

Gordon Johnson, fellow board member, said he’d remember Cahill’s smile.

“That smile invited one to be a part of him and to be a part of him was something very special. He invited you into his realm and the mentorship that came with that was really extraordinary,” Johnson said.

Looking at a photo of Cahill during the meeting, he said, “there’s the smile of a man with great depth and character.”