In her second bid to become Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, it’s clear that award-winning teacher Melissa Romano has two priorities: to ensure that the Office of Public instruction focuses on the needs of students in public schools and that the office provides the leadership necessary to help Montana students, teachers, and schools achieve to their highest potential.
In an interview with The Montana Post, Romano, a Helena elementary school teacher who won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching and who was named the Montana Teacher of the Year in 2018, discussed the lessons she learned in her close 2016 loss, the absence of leadership at OPI today, as well as her efforts to help Montana families struggling with the state’s abrupt transition to online learning as the COVID-19 outbreak hit the country.
Romano told us that she’s kept busy during the outbreak, developing a blog to help teachers and educators transition to online learning, a social media campaign to celebrate teachers, and a twice-weekly program of reading aloud for kids:
I’ve launched a blog called Teaching Together, because really we’re at a time where teachers and educators are really partners with parents in trying to reach and teach children across our state. [It is] filled with resources for educators, students and parents as we all sort of navigate this new normal of school looking different. Whether you’re receiving instruction online or you’re doing some sort of version of paper pencil packets and using apps, school is looking very different.
I’ve also sort of launched a social media campaign that celebrating Montana teachers. I was just simply blown away and amazed at what educators just did immediately. They just jumped in and started transitioning to online, making their classes go virtual. They were sharing resources left and right and just doing incredible things from even showing up in neighborhoods and having teacher parades just so they could connect with students. And so I really wanted to just showcase what’s going on.
Romano, however, did offer sharp criticism of current Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, saying that she has failed to lead:
It’s been very frustrating to sit back and watch current the current superintendent fail our students time and time again by simply not being a leader and not being an advocate at the legislature when it comes to funding. You know, so many of the decisions that are made in classrooms on a daily basis rely on funding. And it’s critical that we have a really strong leader who shows up at the legislature and advocates so classrooms have the resources they need, so our students benefit from those resources, and so ultimately we have well-developed citizens who can go on and live productive lives.
Building on that theme, Romano noted that Arntzen has repeatedly failed to speak up for Montana’s public schools at the Legislature:
It’s absolutely ridiculous that you wouldn’t have your superintendent showing up and advocating for bills that would be benefitting Montana students. In the last legislative session, we saw that time and time again when it came to bills that would have been advantageous for Montana students that would have benefited our public schools. She just was simply nowhere to be found. And when it came time for her to oppose those really bad bills, that would be detrimental to our public school system. Again, she just failed the students time and time again by simply not showing up.
Asked about her legislative priorities if elected, Romano highlighted the need for programs to help students in poverty and mental health issues. She also called for funding of public pre-school in Montana:
The first priority for me is public preschool. I think it is it’s time for our state to be investing in our young learners. We know that when we invest in young learners, that’s an investment in our economy in the future. We know that when we invest today, it’s a stronger economy tomorrow. We’re still just one of a handful of states that doesn’t offer public preschool. I taught kindergarten here in Helena for a year and I was able to see firsthand what it looks like when a 5 year old or a 6 year old enter school ready to learn…. We know that early intervention and when we invest in our young learners, the end result of that is huge. Students are much more likely to be reading at grade level. They’re much more likely to be successful later on in high school and their algebra class, and they’re more likely to graduate on time from high school. It’s time to invest in our young learners with public preschool.
Please be sure to listen to the whole interview, in which Romano talks about testing, the danger of diverting public funds to private schools, and much more.