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Longtime Washington Educator Offered Kalispell Superintendent Post
Mark Flatau emerges as top candidate to replace Darlene Schottle
Mark E. Flatau has served as the superintendent of schools in the Cle Elum-Roslyn District in Cle Elum, Wash. - Courtesy photo
During his nine-year tenure as superintendent in a small school district in central Washington, Mark Flatau dealt with budget shortfalls and enrollment declines, spearheaded two $6 million levies that addressed technology and facility needs and established new benchmarks for academic achievement throughout the elementary, middle and high schools.

His resume touts a rather impressive pedigree in the education system stretching back 36 years, and it was on full display last week in Kalispell as Flatau gave an enthusiastic interview for the top job in School District 5 along with four other finalists.

In the end, the experience, the striking presentation and the “intangibles” put him over the top, according to members of the district’s board of trustees.

After a three-day marathon of interviews and site visits with five finalists, Flatau emerged as the chosen successor to the superintendent of Kalispell’s public school system. He interviewed for the position Jan. 13 and was offered the position the next day after the 11-member school board quickly tabbed him as the suitable replacement for Darlene Schottle, who is stepping down in June after 11 years.

The deal will not be finalized until a contract is drawn up and board members visit Flatau’s school district in Cle Elum, Wash., where he has served as superintendent since 2005. Both are expected to occur in the coming weeks, and if everything goes according to plan, Flatau would formally fill the position in July.

“We had five good candidates. We couldn’t have gone wrong with any of them, to be honest,” Frank Miller, chair of the Kalispell School District board of trustees, said. “The turning point was (Flatau’s) interview. And the positive feedback from our community … We’re really confident that it’s going to be a good decision.”

Flatau, whose wife grew up in Havre and has an in-law living in the Flathead Valley, arrived here with a noticeable interest in resettling in Northwest Montana. He gave board members exhaustive brochures that clearly laid out his experience, goals and a “personal code of ethics and conduct.”

“I’ve been in education for 45 years. I’ve never seen anyone come that prepared to do an interview,” Miller said. “He did his homework. He knew who he was talking to.”

In his presentation, Flatau said public schools must establish a learning environment in which all students are engaged in meaningful and relevant learning, which will create a successful future generation. That can be accomplished, he said, through aligned, standards-based curriculum, well-trained staff and targeted assessments to check the level of achievement and hold educators accountable.

“I think he is a highly energetic and motivated gentleman and I think he will be an excellent superintendent for this district,” said Schottle, who has served in the top post since the summer of 2003.

It will certainly be a transition for Flatau, whose current school district has seen overall enrollment dip below 1,000 students in a small community less than two hours outside of Seattle. In Kalispell, the school district has 750 full-time employees and a swelling enrollment that has surpassed 6,000 students, the most ever.

“He is going to walk in and have a really good staff to work with right off the bat,” Miller said. “The biggest issues are getting the resources we need, financially, and to be able to develop space.”

School board members were impressed with how enthusiastically Flatau embraced the challenge of tackling current issues like skyrocketing enrollment within the district, according to Miller. His experience with passing school levies also made him a standout candidate.

According to a former colleague, Flatau’s straight-forward style, which stood out during his interview in Kalispell, is typical of the longtime educator, who won favor in the community of Cle Elum.

“He’s not somebody who just tells someone what they want to hear,” said Kim Hedrick, a former middle school principal who worked with Flatau for eight years. “He is very sincere and has the core values of compassion, commitment and transparency. He truly had that passion to see all kids succeed, to see all kids learn and grow.”

Hedrick credited Flatau with helping the Cle Elum-Roslyn School District turn around a dire financial situation. The district is currently debt free, she said.

“There had been a spending fund balance that we needed to right,” she said. “We really were able to weather that storm without huge division in any way.”

The school successfully revamped several facilities and implemented numerous technology upgrades under Flatau.

In 2007, 2008 and 2013, the Cle Elum-Roslyn district received the “Schools of Distinction Award,” honoring the state’s highest improving schools. It was the first time the district had received the honor when it occurred in 2007.

In 2009, the district was named the “Outstanding School District for Environmental and Sustainability Education,” while Flatau received the “Washington State Outstanding Administrator Award for Environmental and Sustainability Education.” Two years later, the district received the state’s Blue Ribbon Award, the Washington Achievement Award for Extended Graduation Rates.

Another standout trademark of Flatau’s was his active involvement in building relationships within the community and district, according to Hedrick.

“He was a good ambassador,” she said.

Before serving as superintendent in Cle Elum, Flatau was assistant superintendent in the North Mason School District in Belfair, Wash., from 2003 to 2005. He rose through the ranks at North Mason, starting as a science teacher and boys basketball coach in 1981. In 1984, he became the district’s activities director, and a year later he was also promoted to dean of students. In 1986, he became assistant principal, while remaining activities director. He was named the high school principal in 1996 and became executive director of operations and facilities in 2001.

He began teaching in 1977 at Northgate Christian School’s junior high in Seattle.

The other finalists besides Flatau were Deborah Akers, superintendent at Mercer County Schools in Princeton, W. Va.; Glenn Gelbrich, superintendent at Juneau School District in Juneau, Alaska; Randy Cline, superintendent at Frenchtown School District in Frenchtown; and Tom Moore, assistant superintendent at Great Falls Public Schools in Great Falls.
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