Q&A with Thom Peck: New Superintendent of Public Schools
By Lavonne Limpus Jurack
Central Montana has a bunch of new talent joining the outstanding staff at Fergus Public Schools this fall, including the Superintendent of Public Schools, Thom Peck. I met with Thom at the Lincoln School Building and was instantly greeted with a long, friendly handshake and a warm smile. Thom, bedecked in a ball cap, shorts and polo, appeared at ease in his new surroundings. With a few niceties I find out that Thom is 53, divorced, and the father of two college aged girls that he is very proud of. One follows in his footsteps as a teacher and one is in nursing.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself, Thom.
A: Well, I was born in Chester MT to a family of all teachers. We were raised pretty much in Columbia Falls. I got my teaching degree at Carrol College, and began my teaching career in Washington State. I was there for 9 years and then we moved back to Kalispell, and I taught there for 2 years. That was in 1996. I then went into administration, after getting my Administration M.A. from Seattle Pacific University, for the first time in Hamilton MT as the Assistant Principal in 1998. After that, I was the Principal at Big Fork for 8 years. 1998 was a big football year against Fergus so that was a big deal at that time. I was then a Principal at Three Forks MT until I became the Superintendent in Charlow from 2012-2015, and then finally ended up in Box Elder before getting the position here.
Q: What do you think of Lewistown so far?
A: Lewistown has been a big part of my life since my sister, Starla Solberg, and her family have lived here for a long time. This is really a great place to live. I look forward to retiring here someday. I see though how it is changing from a retirement town to a much younger demographic which means families, and the need for jobs to sustain them. If there is a good job here I think you would want to live here.
Q: Starla Solberg is my favorite person! (Both of us laugh) But please continue.
A: We always came here for holidays and spent time here. It’s a great place to live. I have always loved small schools so this is a different experience with a Class A School. There is a culture or attitude that I love in small schools. I have a fear of losing contact with the kids, that part is very important to me. I always tell people I am really just in the 48th grade. Working directly with the kids; there is an energy level there that keeps me healthy.
Q: What do you feel will be your biggest challenges here?
A: Money, budget, facilities, kids, staff and curriculum, the same as any school. (large smile)
Q: How will you meet those challenges?
A: It sounds simple but we have to work at being our best every day. Last year we had 22 dropouts and we have 35 going to another District. Those are things we have to look at and determine the best way to meet those challenges head on.
Q: How does our budget look so far?
A: We are doing okay with levies but those are a burden on local taxpayers. There is new legislation and there are always cutbacks. I think truly though, we have great people and that will be our asset. I have a tough job, I have to determine the budget on “need” not on “want”. The old adage is under promise and over deliver. I feel we can deliver a very high level to our community and students if we can stay humble and hungry. We can constantly get better.
Q: If you could tell Lewistown something, anything, what would it be?
A: I feel pride here; in the school, in the hallways, at events, and I see that pride in the community and that cannot be measured. I am a true believer in Lewistown and am honored to serve as Superintendent and be part of the communities leaders. I intend to listen very closely and ask a lot of questions along the way.
Welcome to the community, Thom! You can read his message to the public on Fergus’s website here.