Leaving a family: Leslie Boardman to retire after 19 years at School Dist. #1

By Ryan Fitzmaurice

A fifth grade student had entered the office, pale as a ghost.

Lesley Boardman, manning her post in the office, turned to greet the student.

“I’m feeling sick,” the student said. 

The student put his head down, looked up and then projectile vomited. 

“He threw up all over me,” Boardman said. “It shot from that side, it got all over me, it got all over my keypad, it got all over my computer, it got all over the windows…”

There’s probably little doubt that, after 19 years, Boardman deserves her retirement.

As the office secretary, Boardman is the glue that keeps the school together. 

“Especially in an elementary school, the staff is just like a family, a second family. That’s how I would describe our school. We’re a family unit,” Boardman said. “Maybe it’s just taking an interest in each other’s life. That’s a big part of what my job is, making everybody else’s job a little easier. In order to do that, you have to know a little bit about their personal life. About their needs. About what’s going on in their life. In a supportive way, not a nosy way. Just in order to take care of them better.”

Boardman says students, especially young students, see her in the main office so often, they often confuse her for the principal. It’s not rare for her to be in the grocery store and have a student point and proclaim that their principal is just in the other aisle. 

But Boardman plays many roles in the family. Some days she’s the nurse. Some days the principal isn’t in, so she has to cover handling and directing people in other directions. Some days the counselor isn’t in, so Boardman fills in a little in those shoes. 

“It’s knowing subs and teachers, and a big part of your job is knowing every kid and knowing every name. Nothing makes a person feeling better than being able to call them by their name,” Boardman said. “My job is non-stop every day, and that’s another thing I love about my job. I’m not one to just sit. I want to be busy. I want to have my day filled. And you have to be able to handle the interruptions, and not get ruffled.”

Boardman can remember several occasions when the school lost track of a child, which would prompt her to jump in her car and cruise the streets of Cowley making sure the student was safe.

“Those are my biggest nightmare days, not knowing where a child is,” Boardman said. “It’s a huge responsibility.”

 It’s another unwritten but invaluable aspect of an office secretary’s job. 

It might seem like a lot, but it’s always been the dream job for Boardman. 

Boardman had an extensive history in education before heading the main office for Rocky Elementary. Boardman started out in northern Montana, working as a high school secretary before being promoted to business administrator for the school district in Malta, Montana, before moving to Red Lodge to be a business administrator there. 

“And then I took
many years off and I was an at-home mom,” Boardman said.

Even as an at-home mom, Boardman drove buses, substitute taught and volunteered at the school. 

“You support your kids in education,” Boardman said.

When her husband, Russell, moved to become a full-time rancher in the Frannie area, it was Boardman’s time to again find herself fully back in education. 

She knew from filling in for the position in the past that the office secretary at the Cowley Elementary was the job she wanted.

“I prayed for it for three years,” Boardman said. “It came open sooner than I had intended to come back to work, but it was very evident that it was the right time. I looked up what I needed to know. I learned Excel. I learned Microsoft Word. I sharpened my skills at the adding machine. I wanted this job so bad. I’ve said it in my retirement party and I’ll say it here, God gave me this job.” 

 In the ensuing 19 years, Boardman has either had a front row seat or an active role in much of the happenings in the school building. That’s another
largely unspoken aspect of being office secretary, being in the fray.

“Maybe that’s just my personality, but the person in this job tends to be in the middle of it all,” Boardman said. “What happens at work stays at work. That’s one of the primary rules of this position.”

Boardman recalled when the district consolidated as an especially difficult time, as every elementary student in the region was sent into her school building. 

“That was a turbulent and contentious time, but only among parents, never among kids. They always viewed each other as one group of kids,” Boardman said. “It was hard to see during that time how
contentious the parents were and how it made the kids feel.”

But, often, parents have been who have picked her up, as well. 

“One situation stands out in my mind. There was a blast on social media where my name wasn’t mentioned but my position was mentioned. The (number of) parents that rallied to defend my position was amazing,” Boardman said.  “I had a mom bring me a bouquet of flowers, never saying it had anything to do with that, but just to thank me for the things I did. It’s a community that’s always been supportive.”

The reason Boardman rides the ups and downs is the same reason every employee does, and it’s the reason the staff is so tight-knit. They’re in it to better the lives of the students they watch over. 

“Kids are what we’re investing in,” Boardman said. “We want to make life better for every child by giving them an education. That’s everybody from the custodian, to the cooks, to the secretary to the principal. Everybody is looking out for the kids.”

Her final year has been sweet for many reasons, the first and foremost of which is that her granddaughter has joined Rocky Mountain Elementary student body. It’s a privilege she didn’t have with her own kids, who were in middle school when she first accepted the position. Spending time with her has meant the world, Boardman said.

Boardman doesn’t see herself slowing down in retirement. It’s not in her nature. With her family still owning a ranch she probably won’t have to. But, spending more time with family is the one thing she definitely is looking forward to, Boardman said. 

That, and also finally getting a chance to sleep in. 

It will still be an emotional goodbye to her staff when it comes. 

“We’ve raised kids together. We’ve lost family members together,” Boardman said. “There’s just a lot of heart stuff in 19 years that has gone on here.”