Education Montana Politics

Re-elect Denise Juneau As Our Superintendent of Public Instruction

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Perhaps the easiest endorsement for the writers at this blog is the endorsement of Denise Juneau as Superintendent of Public Instruction. We could endorse Ms. Juneau simply because her opponent lacks a basic understanding of education data, has no vision for Montana schools that go beyond sound bites, and can’t spell simple words. Ms. Welch’s campaign has been a disastrous mishmash of half-baked policy ideas and slogans that would deprive Montana’s schools of critical leadership during a time of transformation in our entire education system.

But none of that matters. We’re enthusiastically supporting Denise Juneau because she has been an excellent Superintendent—and Montana students deserve another four years of her leadership.

Four years ago, after Juneau’s election, I wrote an “open letter” suggesting some goals that Montana schools should pursue in her first term. While I doubt that Ms. Juneau read my letter, she’s done accomplished everything I asked for—from recognizing and working on deficiencies shown by our students to leading the charge for better content standards in Montana. It would be hard to ask for more from the head of our schools than Ms. Juneau has achieved.

Denise is incredibly experienced, having worked as an educator, administrator,and mentor. Along the way, she got her M.A. in Education and law degree. Perhaps most importantly, she’s the daughter of educators and still an educator herself, so she understand the epic struggles and tiny triumphs that happen in Montana schools every day.

Denise is the most qualified person ever to run for the Superintendent’s office—and that’s saying a lot, given the excellent leaders Montana schools have had for the past two decades.

But, as anyone involved in education can tell you, credentials aren’t enough, no matter how impressive they are. An educator needs to believe in schools, believe in educators, and believe in the transformative promise of education.

Denise doesn’t see herself as some removed administrator of the schools working in Helena. She works with administrators, with teachers, and with students to ensure that the best policies, Montana-based policies, are implemented in our schools. She tirelessly works with the people who best understand what our schools must be, the students who learn there every day. Her Student Advisory Board is a testament to that commitment.

Denise doesn’t believe in federal mandates that punish schools for teaching and children for doing their level best to learn; she believes in giving those students faith in their abilities and the schools the tools to turn that faith into reality.

She not only believes that every student deserves the opportunity for a quality public education as our Constitution demands, but that every student has the potential to be educated. She’s championed a program that the next Legislature should pass, requiring that students stay in school until they’re eighteen years old.

That’s not a dropout policy, that’s a graduation policy. That’s a policy that tells our students we believe they have limitless potential. That’s leadership.

Whether it’s a student in a small town who doesn’t see the value of her education in her rural community or the student who feels he’s just a little bit lost in a school that seems too big to imagine, Denise Juneau believes that no one, from teachers in the community to those who work behind the scenes in Helena, should ever give up on a student.

It would be easy to sit back and say that we can’t help these students, that they drop out because they make the choice. Denise is unafraid to confront some of those old ideas and to challenge complacency. She believes in raising expectations—and aspirations—for our students and our schools.

And the data shows how successful Ms. Juneau has been. Montana has continued its historical excellence on national tests of proficiency, improved graduation rates, and increased proficiency rates on statewide tests. By any objective measure, Montana schools have done better under Ms. Juneau’s leadership:

According to the 2011 ‘Nation’s Report Card’, only one state scored higher than Montana eighth graders in math and no states scored higher in reading.  In grade four math, only seven states scored higher than Montana and in grade four Reading only five states scored higher.  In the latest science report card, Montana’s eighth graders shared the highest score in the nation with just three other states and our fourth graders ranked second-highest.

In short, Denise believes in the promise of public education to enhance our state, our communities, and our most precious resources—the young men and women who will lead this state one day.

Next Tuesday (or before), do your part to ensure continued excellence in Montana schools. Re-elect Denise Juneau.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-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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