Education Montana Politics

Superintendent of Public Instruction Candidate Sandy Welch Doesn’t Offer Any Specifics

Written by Don Pogreba
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While the Republican candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction seems less colorful than the candidate from 2008, it’s equally clear this time that Denise Juneau is the best choice to lead Montana’s schools.

I have no doubt that Sandy Welch cares about Montana students; I just don’t think she has much of a plan to improve their education.

Initially, it seems clear that Ms. Welch simply lacks the experience necessary to be the chief of Montana’s schools. While six years as a principal are certainly admirable, they are hardly sufficient preparation for managing OPI’s budget, balancing federal programs with state mandates, and providing guidance to the state’s teachers and schools.

It’s hard to get much of a handle on Ms. Welch, as her issues page simply lacks depth and detail. No one (other than Ken Miller) disagrees with the idea that schools should have “excellent teachers”—the challenge is ensuring it—and Ms. Welch doesn’t offer any solutions.

She also takes a fascinatingly contradictory position when it comes to the state’s role in education. On one hand, she falls in line with anti-conservative rhetoric about the Office of Public Instruction, telling the Flathead Beacon that “OPI has a lot of mandates. Schools need to have some of those regulations stripped away.” In her next breath, she seems to suggest an expanded role for the Office of Public Instruction:

Welch has introduced plans to “grant enhanced local control and administrative flexibility to high achieving schools, amplify teacher performance through mentoring programs, and ensure that all students develop a common foundation of literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking skills.”

Her interview with the Billings Gazette reveals this tension—in one paragraph, she’s decrying state mandates and in the next she’s envisioning the state deciding which teachers are effective and ineffective, rather than local school boards.

While the appeal to “local control” might play well in the Flathead, it’s clearly at odds with development of a “common foundation” of skills, which require state direction and input. And that’s just the problem: conservatives seem to want local control of schools only so long as their agenda is met.

The truth is that in an increasingly complex and interconnected world, with students moving all over the state and nation, we absolutely need to develop strong state standards for education, and Denise Juneau has led the way towards accomplishing that.

  • Monday: Secretary of State
  • Tuesday: Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • Wednesday: State Auditor
  • Thursday: Attorney General
  • Friday: Governor

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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