Mail-in ballots due May 5

The Big Sky School District’s annual school board election will be held Tuesday, May 5, by mail ballot. Five candidates – Sandi Cunningham, Anne Marie Mistretta, Dawn Smith, Kim Gunderson and Matt Jennings – are applying for the position of trustee. Two will be elected to serve as trustees for three-year terms to represent BSSD.

Sandi Cunnigham

My father was in the Air Force, so my early life was spent moving around the world. I grew up in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools system, widely considered to be one of the best in the world, and later attended universities in Switzerland, England and New York. After a successful, 20-year leadership career, my son and I moved from Baltimore, Md. to Big Sky in July 2014.

As president of the Big Sky Parent Teacher Organization this year, I’ve blended experience, new ideas and respected traditions as our board continued the mission of enhancing the student and staff experience in the Big Sky School District. As co-chair of the 35th annual Pie Auction, I helped raise record funding with the lowest percentage of expenses ever. With an incredible team of volunteers, I learned that our diverse community is what makes Big Sky awesome – this diversity should be reflected on our school board.

As a trustee I will bring a balanced opinion, objective analysis and thoughtful consideration to every situation. I’ll work with the school board to continue our district’s success while demonstrating transparency and maintaining effective, two-way communication with the community. I will advocate for programs that directly support staff development, instruction that challenges our students, and long-term budget management so our kids can continue to make Big Sky proud.

Kim Gunderson

The main reason I moved to Big Sky was for the school, because education is of utmost importance to me. As a graduate of Columbia University’s Barnard College, I understand the opportunities a great education can offer. Big Sky School District offers children the best in both academics and real world experience.

However, BSSD is at a crossroads. As a long-time substitute teacher for BSSD, I’ve seen first hand what works, as well as what doesn’t. Unprecedented growth has yielded unexpected changes, both good and bad. A few positives are increased programming and sports opportunities, and a few negatives include overcrowding and increased costs.

My background as a financial analyst on Wall Street, advertising executive in New York City and compensation analyst for School District 51 ($120 million budget, over 21,000 students) in Grand Junction, Colo., make me uniquely qualified to serve as a school board trustee. I’ve dealt with tough budget issues in each of my previous occupations and will fight for increased transparency, including public forums on issues such as the recent failed levy.

Ultimately, as a mother of three children enrolled in BSSD, I want to ensure that all our children are prepared to be responsible and employable members of society.

Matt Jennings

Having been a resident of the Big Sky community for roughly 20 years, I felt it was time to give back and was elected as a Big Sky School Board Trustee in 2012. Big Sky is a wonderful community and it’s been great to connect with so many people in this area, both professionally and personally.

I’ve been fortunate to serve the last three years as a school board trustee and would love to continue serving. My first term as trustee has been a great learning experience to date, and I’m running again because I want to continue to help the Big Sky School District make good decisions and make sure that community members’ voices are heard. I also have a personal interest, because next year I will have two boys enrolled at Ophir Elementary School. Matthew will be in fourth grade and Jack will be entering kindergarten – I want to be involved in the decision-making process moving forward.

I’ve always been proud to say that my kids attend Ophir School, and I’ve been proud to say that I’m on the Big Sky School District School Board. I hope to have this opportunity again.

Anne Marie Mistretta

I filed for Big Sky School District school board candidacy because I care deeply about the schools and the community I’ve called home for 12 years. When the district needed leadership for a high school, I stepped up. I’m stepping forward again because the board needs an experienced person who knows the district and the community.

My relationship with Ophir began in 1996 when I volunteered as the superintendent’s consultant on experiential, place-based, and adventure programming; these remain hallmarks today.

During my tenure as superintendent in Big Sky, we designed curricular programs that dramatically raised student achievement. I served the community while the high school was legislated, voted, bonded, and built. This saves taxpayers more than a million dollars annually.

School trustees are responsible for maintaining open communication between school and community, promoting sound fiscal practices, designing legal and logical policies, hiring the best staff, and evaluating the superintendent. I have these skills.

I served on the performing arts center design team and capital campaign, and I’ve successfully authored grants for the district. My husband and I started a college scholarship program for LPHS seniors, raising $35,000 in its first year.

As Big Sky grows – and the district along with it – it’s important that our schools inspire students, parents and community members. I have a track record of making Big Sky proud.
Dawn Smith

As a 15-year resident of Gallatin County, I have watched Big Sky grow and evolve into the community it is today. After working three seasons in Big Sky, I purchased a home in the area and relocated permanently in 2013. The position of school board trustee is an opportunity for me to contribute to this community.

Since moving to Big Sky, I’ve become involved with community organizations, serving on committees and volunteering for events both inside and outside of the school. Through volunteerism and as a member of the workforce I’ve interacted with area families, all who have valuable opinions, experience and contributions for continuing the success of the school district. These interactions provide information that I will use to guide discussions and decisions as a trustee.

BSSD is fortunate to have strong, established educational programming, which speaks to the community’s ongoing commitment to the district, students and staff. While it’s important to support and enhance this programming and foster a positive learning environment, this must be supported by sound board administration and business management.

I’m a critical thinker and problem solver and subscribe to proactive planning for the greatest level of success. As a trustee, I will focus on the present and future needs of the district and seek community-wide input and involvement in planning and decision-making.