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Montana leaders discuss future of education system at Helena meeting

Montana State Capitol
Posted at 8:19 PM, Jun 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-06 22:19:10-04

HELENA — Montana government and educational leaders gathered in Helena Monday, taking about what can be done to improve outcomes for students.

“The moment to have a significant positive impact on the future of our children in the state of Montana is now,” said state Sen. Shannon O’Brien, D-Missoula.

The Montana Legislature’s Education Interim Committee and Education Interim Budget Committee held a special joint meeting to focus on the role each stakeholder plays in the education system and how they can work together.

“We hope this will be the start of a larger and broader effort to better meet the needs of all Montanans,” said Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton.

The state constitution splits responsibility for education many ways. The Legislature provides funding, local school boards exercise supervision and control, the Board of Public Education and Board of Regents for the Montana University System establish policies and long-term planning, and the executive branch – including the governor and Office of Public Instruction – provide additional support. On Monday, representatives from each of those entities were on hand.

Leaders said it was important to get everyone who oversees education together in one room, so they could all get on the same page about what goals they should be aiming for.

“We firmly believe that the only way that we can focus on the future and our educational goals is to coordinate and have the opportunity to come together like we are today,” said McCall Flynn, executive director for the Board of Public Education.

Jason Dougal, president and COO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, facilitated the day’s discussion. He told leaders there’s evidence the current educational system is no longer meeting students’ needs the way it once did, particularly with the growing demand for high-skill workers. He encouraged them to think about reinventing the way they operate.

Gov. Greg Gianforte echoed that call for innovation as he addressed the meeting Monday morning.

“Given the workforce shortages across Montana, it’s clear we must reinvent ourselves,” he said. “That’s my challenge to all of you.”

Gianforte said the state has already started efforts to attract and retain teachers and expand public-private partnerships, but there’s still more that can be done.

Those in attendance say, after the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a big opportunity to rethink the way they deliver instruction. Agencies talked about efforts they’re already making to encourage flexibility in education.

During the afternoon, the participants had a discussion on establishing shared goals and strategies. They outlined some of the main things they want Montana students to learn in the school system – from basic literacy and math, to skills in communication and personal interaction, to career preparation, to self-worth.

Leaders said this meeting has to be just the beginning of the conversation.

“I hope that we integrate what we do here today as a regular way of interacting with one another, because I think that’s what’s going to untap the ability of districts to innovate, to take full advantage of these and other opportunities,” said Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana School Boards Association.