Terry Bouck, the new superintendent for Billings Public Schools, began his new post July 2 with a jam-packed schedule: meeting with his executive secretary; meeting with members of the Billings Chamber of Commerce; meeting staff members; a meeting with a trustee; a meeting with former and interim superintendent Jack Copps; the list goes on.
“I’ve had two busy days where I’ve had back-to-back everything,” Mr. Bouck said of his first couple of days on the job. “It’s great.”
Mr. Bouck’s smile is a warm one, from his desk at the far end of the second floor of the Lincoln Center, the location for the district’s many administrative offices. Despite the whirlwind itinerary, he is relaxed, perhaps still basking in the warm welcome he has been enjoying from everyone greeting him in the halls and knocking on his open door. This is a man clearly in his element.
“I’ve been in education for 30-plus years,” Mr. Bouck said. “I started as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, superintendent. I’ve been an administrator overseas. Most recently I was superintendent of Peninsula (Washington) school district and the Gig Harbor (Wash.) Peninsula area.
“Real rural, deer, some bear we’ve found on school grounds,” he said with a laugh, insisting that they were actual bears, not students. “It was a large district of 29,000 students.”
So why a move at this stage of his life and career?
“Probably the kids,” he says of his own five grown children. “We have five kids. They’ve all left the state of Washington. We no longer have the opportunity to be with our kids in the state of Washington so we were interested in relocating. We were looking for a little sunnier climate, a little drier climate, and Montana just seemed like a great place.”
“When I was 9 or 10,” Mr. Bouck reflected, “I would visit my grandfather in St. Ignatius. That was neat; I remember the buffalo and the deer, and all of that, so that intrigued me. After being here during the interviews and visiting, it was so welcoming and the people are absolutely wonderful.”
Mr. Bouck was selected last spring as superintendent of Billings School District 2 over four other candidates after former Superintendent Keith Beeman was asked to resign last year amid community distrust and discontent among school board members and trustees.
Mr. Bouck and his wife of 18 years, Kristy, who also has been in education for many years, relocated to Billings just a month ago, and are looking to buy a home large enough to accommodate all five kids and their families, which include four grandchildren, when they’re all invited to Billings for Thanksgiving this year.
Mr. Bouck grew up on the outskirts of Seattle. The only time he lived outside of Seattle was the six years he worked overseas. He has an eclectic mix of academic leadership in his background.
“I taught elementary school – second grade through fifth grade,” he explained. “I taught middle school, which included sixth grade, and then I taught elementary P.E. (physical education) one time, so I was pretty diverse as far as my experience.”
While Mr. Bouck enjoys being a superintendent at this stage of his career, he said it is vital that a superintendent have an instructional background.
“I think a superintendent should know instruction,” he said. “I think they should be seen as an instructional leader. I also believe that they need to be a people person. I believe in relationships. You have to have strong relationships and trust in order to move any organization forward.
“You have to believe in data-driven decision making. When you look at achievement, that is part of it: looking at data, looking at every individual child. When you talk about educating 16,000 students, it’s one student at a time, because that one student is someone’s child or grandchild or nephew or neighbor. It’s important.”
Asked to touch on some of the vital issues in the district, he responded:
Bouck on the basics
• On budgeting: “It’s really important to run a tight budget by making sure we’re working closely with our chief financial officer and our director of finance, making sure that we follow the policies in the district and policies about maintaining a certain fund balance, etc. And down the road, I always believe you need to take a look at how you use your money, and if it is not impacting student achievement and teachers teaching, then you question why you are doing it.”
• On overcrowding: “We’re doing a demographic study right now and that will provide us the data to make the determination on whether we are growing; have we reached a plateau; where are we? I can tell you this: I’ve been driving around, looking at homes, and there is a lot of new building taking place. We don’t know if little bikes and trikes are going to be in front of those buildings; that could happen. So one of the things, whether it’s the Billings school district or any school district, is we need to be prepared for it. If there is an increase in enrollment, we’re proactive and not reactive.”
Mr. Bouck was hired while the school board and Mr. Copps were already entrenched in a six-month demographic study.
“I was brought on board about it before I took over and I knew about it. I participated via Skype at the board meeting and actually listened to the dialogue on it. I support it. You’ve got to know where you’re going based on your student population and whether you’re growing or declining. And that’s how you make decisions. Some encouragement is that Jack Copps and I are going to Helena and we’re going to speak before the state board as well as the [Office of Public Instruction] and we’re going to talk to them about our plan to mitigate the large class sizes that we have with the elementary level.”
• On accreditation: “We’ve been told that we’re not meeting the accreditation standards because of the class size issue, so we’ve been asked to come down to Helena and present our plan to mitigate that problem. It’s a problem that we frankly can’t afford to take on totally at this time for a couple of reasons: one is financial and the other is in terms of space. So, it’s an issue that we will deal with but we’ll do it in a systematic way.”
• On boosting morale: “We always have to kind of circle back to the positive things that are happening: your Career Center, a wonderful place for our kids; the scholarship programs … . One of our students is going to Barcelona to run in a track meet; the academic achievement. That’s the first thing you need to reflect on is the great things that are happening. And then you step back and you say how can we do better?
“It really doesn’t help to focus on the negative that might have happened six months ago or a year ago,” Mr. Bouck continued. “Do you learn from it? You bet. But to focus on that doesn’t help anyone. I believe in a positive approach; I believe in communication. That means to our staff, to our parents, to our students and to the community. Without communication, then it’s very difficult to move forward and take any type of positive growth.
“So I’m going to focus on the positive and provide direction and listen to people too. There are a lot of smart people in this community and in this school district. And I’m going to take advantage of that.”
• On Jack Copps: “Jack has been absolutely fantastic, providing not only support but encouragement and help. I can’t say enough about someone that I’ve only known really for over a week. And the district and the community, I’m sure, are very thankful Jack came back. He’s a wonderful guy.”
• On his own goals: “It’s got to be focused on supporting our kids and making sure our kids are prepared to make any decision they want about their future as they leave high school. We need to provide them with the tools and the opportunities to select whatever path they would like to take, whether it be directly in a job, whether it be directly in a trade school or two- or four-year college or whatever. So I think that’s very important because that’s why we’re here.
“The other thing,” Mr. Bouck continued, “is that my goal is to do it in partnership, whether that be with the city, with the Chamber, with Rotary, with Kiwanis, with the Y, Boys and Girls Club, different organizations that are out there, and with parents. And obviously working with the board and making sure that we, that the superintendent and the board members, are good role models for our community, for our staff, and for our students and how we operate.”
• On spending time in the schools: “In my previous district, I spent a lot of time in the buildings, in the classrooms, at activities. I tutored every Friday at one of my elementary schools, the same student for five years. I need to model what I expect. What we’re about is we’re about educating our students. I need to be a part of that. So I would hope that I would try to fill those big shoes that Jack has left.”
On students: “One of the things I’d like to do is hear from students. You know, what are some things that are really going right, and what are some things we could do better with? They should have a voice also. We should listen to them.”
• On accessibility: “I think that people are going to find that I’m accessible. It’s a bigger challenge than when I had 15 schools to now have 30, but I want to get out to every school the first week. It may be that I just get out to them and do a walk-through but I want to do that because that’s what I’ve done every year and I want to do it again.”
• To voters: “I would say to voters: we need to be very transparent to our voters, to our public, to our community about what we’re asking for. We need to be very clear about how it supports educating our kids and supports our staff as far as providing a quality education. We need to let people know that we’ve done a needs assessment on whatever we want to do, and then we need to guarantee to the taxpayers and voters that if they pass whatever initiative we are asking for, that we’re going to use that money for exactly what we told them we were going to use it for. We have a responsibility to be accountable. It’s key. It’s always been key with how I have approached bonds or levies or simply communication.”
Bouck on Bouck
• Favorite part of what he does: “Seeing success in kids. It doesn’t get any better. Whether it’s academic, whether it’s some type of club or activity or sport or talent show or Future Farmers of America; it’s about seeing success. It’s also about learning from your struggles and maybe things that didn’t go the right way and getting better. And it’s also nice to see partnerships – doing it together as opposed to going it alone. That’s important.”
• Spare time: “Sometimes travel to see kids and grandkids. They are all coming for Thanksgiving. We’ll fly to Washington for a University of Washington Huskies game. Not sure yet about Montana teams. We’re football fans; we’ll go to high school games.
“My oldest son is a fly fisherman in Oregon,” Mr. Bouck elaborated. “I may go ahead and take some fly fishing lessons. We’ll get some bikes. Get to Red Lodge. I’m pretty driven in my job, but when I have time, I like to relax.”
In the Bouck family, belief in education runs deep. Mr. and Mrs. Bouck have two sons studying at the University of Arizona: One is studying to become a mining engineer; the other is studying business. They have a son who just completed a master’s degree at the Rhode Island School of Design and is a finalist for a professor position.
Their eldest son lives in Eugene, Ore., and owns a business in forestry; their only daughter was a teacher and is now a full-time mom, involved in photography in her spare time. The Boucks have four grandchildren.
“I’m thrilled to be in Montana,” he said. “My wife loves it; I love it. I think it’s going to be a great job and a great opportunity, and I’m looking forward to it.”