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Elliott Discusses Tenure as Three Forks Superintendent

At the end of June, Three Forks Superintendent Jeff Elliott will be stepping down from the position.

While there were undoubtedly challenges during his three years, Elliott is walking away proud of what he accomplished and confident of the district's direction.

Prior to his being hired in 2018, Elliott had previously worked as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, and principal. With many friends who grew up in Three Forks and knowing many people in the area, Elliott was excited when the position came open, but when he first applied, he did not think he had much of a shot.

"When I was offered the position, I was just amazed," he said.

Elliott was faced with some difficult issues addressing financial issues right away and knew changes had to be made.

"We had to make some things right and get back to where we needed to be financially. I had to make some decisions that did not make me very popular, and I understood that, but the bottom line was we were going to do what was right," Elliott said.

In his early days on the job, he leaned on a colleague and friend Mike Waterman, the current Director of Business for the Bozeman Schools, and Red Lodge Business Manager Donna Tandy.

Elliott said it was essential to get his head wrapped around everything and get things back on track.

Along with the financials, Elliott also immediately dove into the possibility of another school bond after a prior attempt had failed just before he took the job.

One of the first things he did was to determine why the bond failed and met with both the school administration and stakeholders. From this point, Elliott said the district began to get a plan in place with the three pillars of safety, infrastructure, and space.

If there was no need for a bond, Elliott said he would not have forced it, but once he learned more, he felt the community would understand a new bond and support the schools.

When the $25 Million bonds passed in May of 2021, Elliott was excited but knew they would have to get to work right away.

"It was a huge relief, but we were only able to enjoy it about a day before they began working on the renovation and additions to the schools," he said.

While the challenges with Covid-19, the bond, and finances have been a challenge, Elliott said all those involved with the district made it rewarding going to work.

"We had challenges with the finances and the IRS, but the one thing that kept me coming back to work every day was my principals, teachers, staff, and students. Three Forks is a special group of people. This is a special district because of the staff and the kids we have. So that made it way easy to come to work," he said.

Having been a teacher for numerous years, Elliott isn't sure if he would have enjoyed a superintendent job where his office was away from students and teachers. This was not the case in Three Forks, where he was able to interact with both daily.

A huge advocate for teachers, Elliott said some difficult decisions had to be made, but his teachers were always very supportive.

"I know how difficult that job is and how challenging that job is. But I knew we needed to a better job of taking care of our teachers, and I think we've done that," he said.

The decision to walk away was difficult for the longtime educator, but one Elliott said needed to be done.

"It is tough, but I need to take care of some things that are really important to me. My mom and my aunt are two very important to me and my dad has been handling the burden of some of their health issues. So, I am going to be able to help take care of that," he said. 'It's tough to walk away, but Three Forks is in really good hands. We have great teachers that care about the kids, amazing secretaries and staff, a great business office, great kids, and the board has super support."

When people look back at his tenure, Elliott wants them to remember that he was always in a good mood and positive even though there were challenges.

"And I want them to remember that I did what's right. That is the bottom line. Sometimes it tough to make decisions that affect other people, but we have done what is right. It's sometimes hard to do that, but at least you know you can sleep when you do," he said.

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