Behind the Scenes with Kelly Prior: Building a Sustainable Future for Education in Sandpoint

Throughout PAFE’s history, we’ve been fortunate to have key individuals involved to advance our mission and deepen our roots (and impact) in this community. We spend much time telling the story of our school district, our educators, and the students we serve. Today, we turn the camera to look behind the scenes at one such individual doing so much for our organization. 

Kelly Prior, president and CEO of Litehouse, Inc, has been our board president for the past three years, and today, he passes the baton to Kendon Perry (who you’ll be hearing more about later). 

We hit the jackpot to have this visionary leader on our board leadership. He is someone who leaned in with passion and left something better than he found it. When asked how he found the time in addition to his “life job,” as he puts it, at Litehouse, he said: “It’s by choice. You create the time. I am intentional about my decisions so I can choose something I am genuinely passionate about and go deep with it to make that impact. In the past, I’ve said yes to many things, and I’ve spread myself thin and been unable to do myself the justice of accomplishing something that matters.” 

Kelly and his family moved to Sandpoint from Spokane in 2002, the year PAFE was founded. At that time, had a 15-month-old baby and another on the way. Advice he received before moving here: “Take a second look at the area because of the quality of education. You might need to consider private or home-schooling.” 

Today, Kelly said, “I look back, and I speak to our donors that come to the golf tournament and say I’m proud to put my kids through public education in Sandpoint. I know PAFE doesn’t get all the credit for turning it around. We’ve been very fortunate with some of the leaders and teachers in our schools, but PAFE has certainly moved the needle with programs and contributions.”

A Solid Financial Plan

Kelly joined our board of directors when Coldwater Creek was exiting the market. There was a lot of fear in the community regarding how it would impact us, and PAFE wasn’t immune to that fear. Could we survive without the financial involvement of Coldwater Creek? Kelly led the development of a five-year financial plan to ensure we would thrive. The founders created the concept of an endowment and he created targets around that concept. Having a plan that identified goals, so we can get to a size that the earnings pay for the administration and overhead, helped drive many of our decisions (in support of our mission, of course). We had a plan so all future dollars raised would go towards programs. 

This plan builds in resiliency to the unpredictable change in our community. For example, during Kelly’s tenure as President, the permanent levy passed, COVID saw a decrease in revenue and now we have an influx of new people, increased cost of living, and limited housing availability. Within our mission and our financial plan, we are able to return to key questions: What does the community want? Is education important to retired people and potentially unwilling to invest in it? What does our district need?

The Big Idea

As we approached our 20th anniversary, we wanted to have an opportunity to celebrate with our community. Yes, we were about to announce that our endowment was fully funded and that 100 percent of your donation would go directly to programs, but Kelly pushed for more. He wanted to invest in a big idea, so we turned to the district leadership to see what they needed. After much discussion, we landed on The Big Idea of funding an enhanced CTE program. This year, we are excited to see the residential carpentry program in action, and we will be visiting later this month, so stay tuned to see what that looks like!

A Sustainable Future

“I remember when I first moved here when education directly impacted my children and me. That was a good reason to get involved. Now, I am still as passionate about education as ever. My kids may want to have kids here. But even if it’s not my children, it’s children who need support and require more than what we can give them. So I say yes to the responsibilities of Litehouse, my employee-owners, and our future employee-owners, and to a strong community that does well to educate its children.” 

PAFE gets better with age as the leaders who get involved each bring their contribution and leave the organization better than they found it. (Don’t get the wrong idea, Kelly isn’t going anywhere. We are thankful he will continue on our board.) This is what makes PAFE so special – the collaboration with the best people in this community. 

“We continue to build this collaboration where we listen to the needs of the district and the community and partner with solutions for improvement. I wouldn’t be nearly as excited about this work if it were a flash in the pan,” said Kelly. “The work I feel I’ve helped contribute is helping the organization to be in perpetuity so that this great work can continue, regardless of who’s on the board, who’s at the executive director level, and what our community looks like. We’re now set up to keep giving back. And that’s really hard to get to.”

“I invite you to be engaged in the solution and get involved in improving education with a contribution to PAFE to continue this mission.”