Elsie Arntzen Battles English and Logic Again with A Predictable Outcome

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.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a 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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  • Unfortunately, her candidacy was “vetted”. Many of those who voted for her did not care whether she was qualified for the office. They were more interested in her support for the use of public funds for private education and putting a conservative on the Land Board.

  • This poorly educated, incoherent jerk is totally unacceptable as a representative of Montana education. Jeez Louise we are doomed for our kids future.

  • She was Gianforte’s pick. He was going to funnel tax dollars to private schools as Governor and wanted her in as Superintendent. She is a Montana Family Foundation supporter. Education doesn’t matter to them. The head of the MFF is Jeff Lazfaffy and his daughter, Sarah, was in this same position before Elzie. Sarah graduated from the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry after completing home schooling. Why do Republican
    Montana voters not value well educated and competent administrators? That is a serious question.

  • That is a critical question and more moderate, centrist, and liberal leaders need to grapple with that question and find a way to elevate not only the election visibility of this and all second tier officials but also the importance of those leaders roles BEYOND the land board. Many from other states question why this office is an elected position at all, instead of appointed. I have no opinion on that but the fact that Gianforte hand-picked Arntsen demonstrates his willful disregard for Montana’s students and schools.

  • It shouldn’t surprise anybody how sexist you are POGIE – you’re attacking her because she’s a woman.

    (See? I can think like a Dem.)

    • I’m pretty sure you’re not thinking at all, Eric.

      Any chance you have something useful to say? Want to try to defend our incomprehensible Superintendent? She speaks like you write, so I suspect you may be able to understand her.

    • Ummm….no, Eric, I think Mr. Pogreba is correctly pointing out that Arntzen is obviously an incredible dim wit, woman or not!

    • Maybe she’ll teach you what a run-on sentence is first. Or learn how to construct a sentence that actually means something.

      Even better, perhaps she can teach you how to read and evaluate online sources. That site says Montana has the 19th best quality of education, a number I (and the good folks at the ACT) think is too low. The reason Montana drops? Because our schools, for reasons including guns and a lack of mental health services, aren’t safe enough.

      Gratifying to learn that you want to restrict the former and fund the latter.

    • “Dismantle and improve?” That reminds me of the U.S. officer who, during the Vietnam War, said “We had to destroy the village to save it.” It also reminds me of “Better dead than red,” which was the Bircher rallying cry in the days when red meant communist. Nowadays, of course, red is what liberals see when they’re exposed to Arntzen’s thinking.

  • Unfortunately we will have to listen and read the continued nonsensical statements from this woman for about 40 months more. Elections sure do have consequences as we have already seen in 3 of the second tier state offices. We have a State Secretary of State looking under every rock in Missoula County for some of those 3 million illegal voters that Trumps claims cost him the popular vote. A OPI leader the can barely read or write and talks gibberish most of the time. A State Auditor when not shooting down drones trying to destroy what little healthcare we have in this state. Maybe these people were not vetted all that well by the major Montana media but I feel The Montana Democrat Party did a poor job in this last campaign when their major push was to re-elect Bullock with not enough focus on these down ballot positions. I fear with 4 Republicans controlling the State Land Board we could see a sell of off state lands like in the 1950’s. The democrats really need to work to turn this situation around in 2020

  • Word salad, indeed. She and Palin should be closed in an office together and forced to listen to each other until they agree that neither should be in any position of authority. Barring that, we as a society need to stop glorifying stupidity and lack of education. Just because stupid sells doesn’t mean we should be selling it, you know? Let’s get out and vote next time, folks.

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