GRANGEVILLE — Steve Higgins is in a good place.
“I’m not climbing the ladder, I’m not trying to improve my career,” he said. “When I’m done here, I’m going back to my little farm on the prairie.”
Higgins was hired as the new superintendent of Mountain View School District 244 over the summer, replacing Todd Fiske, who held the position for two years. Higgins and his wife Mary live in the Winona area. They have two adult sons and soon three grandchildren.
“Why did I take the job?” he laughed. “I get asked that a lot.”
Mountain View has been in turmoil in recent years, failing three levies and facing public challenges at the board and also in teacher negotiations.
“I had been approached by some community members and had visited some staff,” Higgins said. “It came down to me thinking I could help.”
Higgins said the nine years he spent as principal at Grangeville High School were “among the best of my career.” Most recently, he served as Superintendent of District 304 at Kamiah Joint School for three years.
“I don’t want to advance anywhere else – so I’m in a unique position to be able to speak a little more freely, to be a little more pointed,” he said. “I would never do anything to harm the district, but I’ve come to a point where I know it’s not about me. It’s about educating our students.”
He said some of these students are his relatives, many are children of friends and may one day be his grandchildren.
“My hope is to help the district get back on a level playing field,” Higgins said. “It’s not long-term, it’s not forever, but I want to do what I can do now while I can do it with integrity.”
Higgins has focused on board relations and district staff. He spends one day a week at the Kooskia schools and has also visited Elk City.
“We have a good team of teachers and I enjoyed seeing them in action,” he said.
He said he appreciates getting to know the board members who look at things from different angles to make decisions.
“I think that’s good and they gave me some leeway to help solve some issues or clarify certain situations and that was helpful,” he said. “I think they ask questions and are thoughtful and wish the best for our children.”
And that’s what Higgins is all about.
“We’re here to educate everyone who walks through our doors,” he said. “It’s our raw material and we can’t choose what it is.”
He said the district needs to understand it’s “not the only game in town,” with online, private and homeschool options greater than ever.
“And to be honest, I don’t give a damn how a kid is raised — as long as they’re raised,” he added, saying he’s excited about student options because education isn’t “one size fits all.”
Despite knowing he’s been called “Pro Levy” in the past, Higgins said that wasn’t the truth.
“I’m pro-education,” he said. “It’s really all about the kids and how we can give them the best experience and education with the resources that are available.”
Higgins said he has listened openly to those who insist that the Idaho Constitution lays the foundation that fair and public education should be provided by the state.
“And I don’t disagree; However, it’s more complicated than that,” he said. “What parts of education are meant by this? The basics? Are we going to get rid of something complementary? Driving licence? food service? We have to work within the funding mechanism that we currently have because that is what is there.”
He said he understands there must be justification for a levy and will present a factual budget, including shortfalls, to the board.
“I’m struggling with what could potentially go away and not have a negative impact on children,” he emphasized. “Is there fat in the district? There is always some fat. But is the fat beneficial to our students? The board has to make these challenging decisions.”
He said he definitely plans to be open with donors about what the needs are and what will be cut if funds aren’t available.
“I understand people asking why we would be sitting on a surplus if they don’t have that option in their own homes,” he said, speaking of forest service funds and maybe some COVID funds this year.
“I’ve had the opportunity to see the neighborhood from the inside, outside and at the cheap places,” he nodded. “I understand the concern, but again, it’s all about ‘What’s best for our children?’ I don’t want to put money down a hole, but I also don’t want to spoil good, helpful programs that help our students succeed.”
Higgins said he has seen education change drastically over the past three years as propaganda has been thrown away “to rally support for people’s own financial” and political interests.
“We don’t indoctrinate our children,” he explained simply. “The school districts around here haven’t changed that much in many years. School stays school. There is no indoctrination.”
As for the teacher shortage, Higgins said he sees it persisting and possibly getting worse.
“We are very blessed to have people from our communities who are dedicated to the welfare of our students and who help in our schools,” he said. “The state can no longer play hardball and they are doing what they can to allow people to teach.”
Despite the current challenges, which he said are not unique to MVSD, but apply nationwide, students are receiving a solid education
“You get out of what you put in, and there are many opportunities to expand, grow and thrive,” he said. “Community and family expectations play a huge role in student success.”
All in all, he said there are a lot of good things about MVSD and he’s happy to be a part of it.
“I’m not going to hang around tearing down a district and hacking away at its programs,” he said. “I’m not here for that. We have good staff. We have good students. Nothing is broken, it’s just a challenging time to get back on your feet and move forward.”