As a teacher, I’m certainly aware that people have different levels of ability. While I’m reasonably skilled in written communication, for instance, I was never a strong math student. Despite these differences in natural ability and interest, we’ve decided as a society that every student should have foundational skills across the curriculum so that they can, as adults, be successful in a wide array of careers.
One of the ways we convince students to learn how to write and speak is to remind them that effective communication skills are often the key to career advancement. It’s hard not to feel like the message is undercut a bit, though, when the person who oversees Montana schools simply cannot construct a coherent sentence.
In response to an ongoing controversy about her office taking over the Montana Teacher of the Year program, Superintendent Elsie Arntzen offered this explanation to KTVQ:
“A budget is a challenge, it’s a philosophy. I believe that, and a focus that comes from leadership and there is room at the table and I believe that it’s up to my leadership and of course giving leadership to our division heads here,” she explained. “I don’t believe that would be in any purview that we would want to that. That this is either Teacher of the year or we’re going to cut something else, I don’t believe that would be in at all.”
Good Lord. Let’s just say I won’t be holding that up as a model for my English II students this year.
And this certainly isn’t an isolated event. Her incoherent defense of her decision to abandon the well-developed state ESSA improvement plan was a master work of incoherent babbling and outside of a Trump speech, I have never read nor listened to anything as completely devoid of logic as her remarks to a room full of educators in Great Falls when she offered this statement :
“But I do need to share with you that when I did ask that question, and I did a lot of traveling, it was not on the number one. The number one was making sure I had a teacher that’s there. So I do believe in our tight, fiscal minds, we have to say that wish list is big. That wish list is there and it’s on that list. But at this opportunity time, is that it? But again, I’m going to reiterate, if the Legislature does so happen, because it would take that opportunity to occur, if that happens, then I would do that within my power and with your energy in this room, to put that forward for our neediest and our youngest. I will not impede that.
Arntzen’s tenure at OPI has been what many of us in the education community feared it would be. She lacks the knowledge, honesty, and ability to lead our schools and the incoherent word salad that spews every time she’s asked a question is an illustration of just how far out of her depth she is.
It’s hard not to laugh when you try to decipher what Arntzen is trying to say, but it’s far less amusing when you realize that she’s already undermining Montana college readiness, demanding increased results for students with disabilities without having the decency to call for more funding to help them, worked to make vulnerable students invisible, and undermining the very idea that skill in Language Arts is necessary for success.
The absolute failure to vet her candidacy in 2016 may well be one of the most damaging errors of the coverage of elections in 2016, with potential repercussions for a whole cohort of high school students.