In 2015, I stood in the middle of Browning High School’s cafeteria taking questions from earnest juniors and seniors. These government class students grilled me on my views of national current events, local policy issues, and even how they could influence decisions made in their own school. The toughest question came from a young women who asked how I got to where I am today, and how she too could build a bright future. I explained that I showed up for school every day, worked hard, and relied on support from my family and teachers who were always there to steer me in the right direction.
Montana’s educators are some of the best in the nation. That’s true when I was a high school student, and it’s true today. When students from all over the state are thinking critically and asking reflective questions, I see proof of dedicated educators.
It’s our educators who have worked alongside me for the last eight years to make sure students have the foundation necessary for future success. It’s because of the long hours, tough work and passion of Montana’s educators that I get to say more students are graduating from high school than ever before, and they’re better prepared than any previous generation.
Together we can tout these successes because we’ve raised the academic bar for all students. We’ve expanded learning opportunities for teachers, so they can learn and share innovative ways of reaching students. We’ve developed technology tools that allow educators to identify students who might be slipping behind, and catch them before they fall.
Together we’ve emphasized college and career readiness by offering the ACT free for all juniors, expanded career and technical student organizations, and supported work-based learning opportunities so students get real-world experience while they’re still in school.
Together we’ve expanded school nutrition programs by serving more breakfasts, lunches, and summer meals to students who may not know when they’ll get a good meal at home. We’ve expanded Montana’s Farm to School efforts so students not only have access to healthy options, but local schools are supporting our local farmers and food producers.
Together we’ve worked to address bullying and mental health crises in our schools and provided educators with more tools to help students who might be desperate for support. I can say without question that our educators have not only saved lives, but have given students a renewed sense of hope when they’ve needed it most.
Together we have protected and enriched all public schools, a place where all students are welcome and will receive a high-quality education, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, or heritage.
As I end my tenure as state superintendent, I would like to thank Montana educators for your tireless commitment to making our state a better place and ensuring the next generation is ready to lead. Because of your work, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of waking up each day over the last eight years excited about what our future holds.
Going from a student at Browning High School all the way to leading Montana’s 821 public schools, I’ve never been more proud of what we’ve accomplished together.
Denise Juneau is the outgoing Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction.