Public schools in Townsend are getting a new leader, and it’s someone who isn’t going to have learn about the community on the job.
The Townsend School District has chosen Susie Hedalen as its next superintendent. Hedalen and her husband have lived in the Townsend area for about 11 years, but she has been making long commutes to a variety of school administration jobs.
“It will be just so nice to be part of the local community more,” she said.
Hedalen has worked in school districts in Grass Range and Livingston, and she is currently the superintendent of the Arrowhead School District, which covers Pray and Emigrant in Park County. She previously worked at the Montana Office of Public Instruction, where she rose to the position of deputy superintendent for education services.
“I learned a lot at the state and in my positions that I’ve had, and I’m excited to contribute to my local community and work with all the great teachers here in Townsend,” she said.
At OPI, Hedalen went around the state meeting with administrators, educators and community members for input on Montana’s education plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. She also tackled issues like Indian education, school safety and mental health.
“That’s something that I find close to my heart and something I think’s really important in school – the whole child,” said Hedalen. “That’s something that I notice that Townsend is also focused on – it’s right up front on their website – so that was important to me.”
Earlier this year, Hedalen was also appointed to the Montana Board of Public Education by Gov. Greg Gianforte.
Jason Noyes, chair of the Townsend school board, said Hedalen stood out as the best candidate because of her wide experience, and because trustees thought her approach would blend well with the district’s current leadership. He also said the fact she was from the area and had ties within the community was unique.
“For her to be here already, that was a huge plus,” Noyes said.
In between her other work, Hedalen has spent several days working with Townsend’s outgoing superintendent, Erik Wilkerson. Wilkerson is stepping down after six years in the position and 30 years in education.
“Things are going really well,” he said. “I think the transition’s going to be a very smooth one, very positive. We’re getting the chance to work together, to kind of share what’s going on, find out what we know, what we don’t know, to help move forward.”
Hedalen’s first official day on the job will be July 1. She said her first priority will be meeting and building relationships with stakeholders throughout the district.
Another major task for the new superintendent will be overseeing the continuing construction on Townsend’s new elementary school. Last year, district voters narrowly approved an $18.8 million bond to pay for a new building – replacing the current facility, which leaders say is outdated and in poor condition.
Wilkerson said they have had some “hiccups” that have slowed the project down. In one example of that, crews discovered the foundation of a much older school building was still buried under the elementary school playground, where the new school is going. That required additional excavation work.
Wilkerson said contractors have finished that excavation and started pouring new concrete. The goal is to have the new building finished and ready for students by the fall of 2022. After that, the current elementary building will be torn down – though the adjoining middle school will be kept and remodeled.
“It’s very exciting to have a new school being built and have that community support,” said Hedalen.
Hedalen said she believes the Townsend School District is in a good place, and she’s ready to help keep it moving forward.
“I think that it’s really neat that a lot of the teachers here have been here for a while,” she said. “They were students here, went to college and came back to be educators here. So that just shows what a great gem the school is, and I’m just excited to be part of that in my local community.”