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Boulder Elementary School Principal and Superintendent Maria Pace has accepted a job with the Prickly Pear Cooperative in East Helena. (Diana McFarland/ Boulder Monitor)

Maria Pace is hanging up her dual hats as principal and superintendent of Boulder Elementary School to return to her first love — special education. 

Pace has been offered the position of director of special education with the Prickly Pear Cooperative in East Helena. The Prickly Pear Board is expected to vote on the contract at its Thursday meeting. 

Pace, who began her career in Alaska teaching special education, said the “stars aligned” when it came to this opportunity. And since Prickly Pear serves all Jefferson County school districts, as well as Townsend, White Sulphur Springs, among others,  Pace will continue to live in Boulder and serve its students.

“I’m super excited,” she said. 

Prickly Pear offers occupational therapy, physical therapy, resource, school psychology, and speech-language therapy to the schools it serves. 

Pace’s mother taught at Boulder Elementary and she attended the school as a child. In 2004, she returned to her elementary alma mater to teach special education. Over the years, she rose in the ranks to become principal and superintendent. 

During her nine years as top administrator, Pace has helped Boulder to obtain two rounds of the competitive Montana Comprehensive Literacy State Development Program grants. The grants have allowed the school to hire an instructional coach, provide for more professional development opportunities and purchase a new curriculum. The funding, at $200,000 a year through the second round, continues through 2024.  

Pace has worked with Rochelle Hesford to bring the Century 21 program to Boulder, as well as the Farm to School food program, where students grow the food that is then used for school lunches. The program has been so successful that Boulder has been a presenter at the Montana Farm to School Conference. Pace was also instrumental in bringing the Head Start program to Boulder, and with it, new playground equipment. 

On the facilities side, Pace has worked with the Board of Trustees to install a new boiler at the school, solar panels and new interior lighting, as well as enhanced exterior lighting and new middle school lockers. 

Pace credits her maintenance and custodial staff with keeping the building clean and in good repair. She also appreciates the support of her “great staff” and the Board of Trustees. 

“It’s been a fun place to work and be — great kids, great families … it was a hard decision … it’s bittersweet,” she said. 

Pace enjoys all facets of special education, but particularly loves seeing how a strong regular education curriculum can strengthen the special education program.

Pace’s contract at Boulder ends June 30. 

The Boulder Elementary Board of Trustees has enlisted the assistance of the Montana School Board Association to help select a new principal/superintendent. 

The MTSBA advertises the position on its website, receives the applications, does all the background checks and credential verifications, said Board Chair Eric Rykal. 

Rykal said the Board has provided the MTSBA with a list of what it’s looking for, and once the field is narrowed to about four candidates, the Board will do the interviewing. 

The MTSBA is better equipped than a volunteer board to determine the potential fitness of applicants for this high level position, said Rykal. 

“They’re professionals in this,” he said.

The MTSBA and its legal team also write up the contract and make the offer, he said, adding that the service costs $5,500. 

The position is currently posted on the MTSBA website and gives a salary range of $80,000 to $93,000, plus benefits. The school website is also offering parents and the community to fill out a survey, located under the “Board” tab, on what is wanted in a new principal and superintendent. 

The posting and the survey close March 4. 


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