By Sarah Elmquist Squires, Managing Editor
Interviewing for the top administrative post at Fremont County School District #25 is not for the faint of heart. The process is packed with panels and tours, a community breakfast, and the finalists finally meet with school board members in the evening following an hour-long community session. For finalists James Fraley, Jodi Ibach, and Corrina Guardipee-Hall, that work is done, and Riverton School Board members are expected to mull their decision on Tuesday night. If you’d like to provide board members with feedback on who would be the best new superintendent for the district, head to bit.ly/Fremont25 and share your thoughts.
Fraley is the current assistant superintendent in Cheyenne, and he said the Riverton post interested as he prepares to be an empty nester. “It’s a point in my life where I want to explore something different,” he said during his community panel last week.
Fraley attended the University of Wyoming’s doctoral program with an EdS in 2021, received his administrative endorsement in 2003, and received his Master’s of Arts in teaching and a teaching certificate from Whitworth College. He earned his bachelor of arts in business administration and economics from Rocky Mountain College and an associate of arts in business management from Northwest Community College.
He’s spent his education career in Cheyenne, working as principal and elementary teacher before taking the assistant superintendent job.
As a leader, Fraley said he has always embraced a “service first” style, adding that building a trusting relationship means modeling the kind of work you expect as a leader. “I’ve been part of teams my whole life,” the former basketball player and founder of Wyoming Flight Basketball Club shared. “I’ve seen teams fail because they didn’t have that collaborative teamwork, that passion to work together … That’s what I’m looking forward to continuing to grow as a leader in that next step.”
The only internal finalist on the list, Jodi Ibach is Riverton’s current assistant superintendent, and she attended Fremont County District #25 schools from kindergarten through high school. She returned to Riverton for the assistant superintendent job in 2020 after serving as principal of Buffalo High School, and as a special education/Learning Center teacher at that school from 2015-2018. Ibach also worked as assistant academic director and virtual elementary teacher for Wyoming Virtual Academy, experience she brought back to Riverton that helped lead the district through virtual learning due to Covid. She taught in special education at Big Horn High School from 2005-2011, as well.
Ibach holds a certificate in school principalship from the University of Wyoming, a special education endorsement from the Wyoming Department of Education, and a Master of Arts in elementary education from Regis University. She also earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Eastern Montana College.
Sometimes I’m direct, other times, more of a collaborative coach, Ibach said of her leadership style. “Sometimes I’m just there for support … And other times, I’m a delegator.”
When asked about parent and stakeholder involvement Ibach pointed to building on successful initiatives under way, such as the “Let’s Have a Conversation” series, and family resource advisors that help district families tackle challenges to keep kids in school and engaged. An example of a program employed at Buffalo High School that could be modeled in Riverton required teachers to have serious sit-down conversations with parents before a student could be failed from a class. That discussion wasn’t just “Hey, your kid is failing,” but: “Your student is earning an F, and I need your help to understand how I can better meet the needs of your child.”
Guardipee-Hall holds a Master’s in educational leadership, a superintendent certification, and education specialist degree in educational leadership, all from Montana State University in Bozeman. She also earned a BS in physical education and art from Montana State in Billings.
Guardipee-Hall currently serves as superintendent of Browning Public Schools in Browning, Mont., a post she’s held since 2016. For a year prior, she worked as interim superintendent and principal of Heart Butte School District, and school superintendent at Frazer School District in Montana from 2012-2015. In Kake, Alaska, she served from 2010-2012 as school superintendent, and school principal in Kodiak, Alaska, at the K-12 Kodiak Island Borough School from 2008-2010. Guardipee-Hall was an assistant principal, teacher, and coach in Browning Public Schools in Montana serving various roles there between 1992-2008.
Guardipee-Hall said she’d visited Riverton about 10 years ago for a volleyball tournament, and really enjoyed Fremont County while she was here. “So it’s been on my heart and mind for a long time,” she said. “It seems like a very nice place to work and to live.”
She described her leadership style as “participative and transformative.” “The transformative is, sometimes we need to change a few things,” she shared. She said she takes a collaborative approach to leading others, because “The superintendent can’t do it alone.”
Guardipee-Hall said engaging stakeholders requires a school leader to be visible, whether it be attending local Rotary meetings or getting to know local tribal councils. “Of course we can’t forget our most important stakeholder of all is our students,” she added, sharing that she’d work to be present at school and youth events to develop relationships with kids.
She touted her work on a $23 million infrastructure project that included a middle school remodel and the construction of a state-of-the-art sports complex as ways she’s worked to help lead in other districts. “I care. I care about the community, I care about the kids and our staff and I want the best for them,” she said.
Guardipee-Hall has experience winning grants to help supplement school funding, and she said being fiscally sound is an important tenant of being a school leader. You have to be sure you’re fiscally responsible and have the necessary resources for educational programming, she said. “And if we don’t have enough money, I don’t have a problem going out and getting the grants we need for our students,” she said.