Monday, June 05, 2023

Discussions on education delve into spicy topics

by Elsie Arntzen
| March 23, 2023 12:00 AM

I am so proud of Montana’s voices in the community education discussions that took place during December and March. I traveled nearly 1,900 miles between Kalispell, Stevensville, Billings, Great Falls, Miles City, Sidney, Havre, Lewistown, and Butte – thank goodness for my four-wheel drive truck.

Of our 400-plus Montana school districts, these locations represent areas in each of the nine membership regions for the Montana Association of School Superintendents (MASS). At all events, except one, multiple legislators participated in the conversations. The purpose of these listening sessions was for government to recognize challenges and seek solutions while honoring local control in education.

All voices had an opportunity to be heard at these “pass-the-mic” events, some lasting over two hours.

Of the nine meetings, four were held at post-secondary locations:

• Montana State University-Billings

• Great Falls College

• Montana State University-Northern

• Montana Tech

I thank Dean Erdmann and Chancellor Kegel for attending these discussions and strengthening the partnership of K-12 and post-secondary as we are all lifelong learners.

Communities across our state recognize the importance of:

• Teacher pay, retention, and recruitment

• Providing mental health support to our students

• Protecting our children while in school

• Sex education, books, and curriculum

• Offering personalized learning and rethinking assessments for greater academic success

• Funding for our schools

• The role of the Legislature, the land board, and local control

Of these topics, the top three takeaways were:

  1. Teachers:

The question was: How do we put quality teachers in every classroom? Answers from the community included increasing salaries and benefits like health insurance.

  1. Mental health support:

The question was: How do we offer more support for the mental health needs of our students? Community members said parent-recognized surveys and more primary care in rural areas are needed.

  1. The legislative topic of charter schools:

The question was: Why are there two bipartisan charter bills in the legislative session? Communities want our public schools to be fully funded and yet they also desire more flexibility.

My heartfelt thank you to everyone who participated and gave their voice to these discussions because our local schools are the heart of our communities. Our Montana students must remain the focus of these authentic and respectful conversations.

Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen.

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