Posted: Feb 4, 2013 4:30 PM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
Updated: Feb 4, 2013 4:30 PM
HELENA - Denise Juneau, the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, is asking the Legislature to help her improve graduation rates in the state.
Juneau gave her "State of Education" speech to both the House and Senate on Monday and asked the lawmakers to pass her bill which increases the legal drop-out age to 18.
Juneau, a Democrat, also asked them to adequately fund schools and make education a priority this session.
"I know what we have to lose if we don't preserve and strengthen public education for generations to come. There is no better economic development tool than making sure our young people receive a quality education so they can secure a good job and are better able to support a family," she said.
Juneau also urged lawmakers to fund a one-time budget item of $6 million dollars to help schools add modern technology to their classrooms, and to fund the Montana Digital Academy, which is an online classroom for any high schooler in the state.
Here is the full text of Juneau's speech as prepared:
Thank you President Essman, Speaker Blasdel, Representatives, Senators, and honored guests for this opportunity to provide the State of Education.
I want to begin by recognizing my parents, Stan and Carol. They are both life-long educators and taught me the value of education. My mom used to be one of you, representing the people of Montana in both the House and the Senate. I kind of miss her being in the Legislature. I could always count on at least one vote when she was here.
I also want to recognize my Deputy Superintendent, Dennis Parman, and my Chief of Staff, Madalyn Quinlan. They represent the great state workers we have at OPI. Thank you for the work that you do on behalf of Montana's schools and students.
I have a great job. I get to travel all over our beautiful state and see first-hand why we have so many reasons to be proud of our public schools. Our students consistently perform in the top ten states in reading, math and science. In fact, our 8th graders were the top performers in science and in the top two in math last year. Dropout rates are decreasing and graduation rates are climbing. We have great outcomes in Montana because our schools are innovative and work to meet the needs of their communities and students.
Over sixty of our small schools have changed their schedules to a four day school week. This allows every student an opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, and parents do not have to take their student out of school for appointments and such. I recently visited with the superintendent from Centerville who said, as a result of changing to a four day school week, students have 721 fewer absences, and teacher and student morale is up. This is just one example of innovative strategies happening in our rural schools.
Helena offers Montessori classes in their elementary schools. Missoula is starting Spanish language immersion classes next year. Billings has a Career Center with over 1,200 students attending. Browning has the Blackfeet Academy that helps their most at-risk students succeed. Laurel has started an alternative school this year. There are innovative education strategies everywhere in this state. And, it is all happening within our public system. This innovation helps keep us at the top of the nation.
And, speaking of innovation in our public education system, in 2011, the Legislature appropriated $2 million to create an online high school course delivery system known as the Montana Digital Academy. What a visionary action to take! The Digital Academy is now an important part of our quality public education system in our huge, rural state. Its courses are taught by Montana public school teachers and are serving nearly 4,000 public and home-schooled students each year, and it continues to grow. The MTDA is providing students in rural schools access to elective courses that have never before been available to them, including world languages and Advanced Placement courses. In our urban schools, the credit recovery classes allow students to catch up to their peers, increasing our graduation rates in our largest school districts.
With the increasing demand for these courses, we expect the MTDA to grow to 10,000 enrollments each year by 2015. That is why I have asked you to increase your $2.3M appropriation by $1.5M over the next biennium. This type of innovation within our public education system is one that you, as legislators, should be very proud of, because you helped support its success. No matter where students attend school, the MTDA provides the opportunity for students to take diverse classes like dual credit courses offered by the Montana University System, Web design, and Personal Finance.
I have a friend who is a teacher in Arlee, Ms. Baldwin, who also teaches a Native American Studies class through the Digital Academy. She teaches students in Missoula, Kalispell, Kevin, Sunburst, Harlowtown, Plentywood, Ekalaka, Big Sandy, and Fishtail.
These online courses provide interaction among students who would not normally meet in a classroom - kids from our cities and reservations learning calculus together; public school students and home schooled students learning Montana history together.
The MTDA is a Montana success story. It deserves your attention and support.
We should definitely celebrate our many accomplishments. But we also know there's much more to do. I want every student to graduate from high school, and I want their K-12 education to prepare them to succeed in college or start their careers. When I came into office, more than 2,400 students were dropping out of school. That's way too many. I knew we could do better.
I brought a bill to raise the legal dropout age to the 2011 Legislative Session. It was sponsored by your colleague, Sen. Taylor Brown. Despite this bill not making it out of committee, I was not deterred from my belief that we could do more to decrease our dropout rate. After the 2011 Session, I worked hard to bring statewide attention to our dropout challenge. I traveled around the state and worked with schools, community organizations, and businesses to create a statewide Graduation Matters presence.
This year, sixty-five percent of Montana students attend a school where there is a Graduation Matters initiative happening in their community. Over 7,000 students have participated in the "I Pledge to Graduate" campaign. We have established some great public-private partnerships that allow us, at the state level, to fund local Graduation Matters efforts: a $450,000 grant from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, $20,000 from State Farm, and $50,000 from the Student Assistance Foundation. And several other businesses and organizations like Town Pump Hotels, Optimum Cable, and Northwest Energy have helped my Student Advisory Board meet and supported the Graduation Matters Summit we held last summer.
A lot of work has happened in between legislative sessions. And, all of this work is paying off. Our dropout rates are going down, and our graduation rates are going up. In a little less than four years, we've seen the dropout numbers decrease by nearly 600 - or to 1,841 students. This is due to all of the hard work going on at the local level where schools, non-profit organizations, main street businesses and families are working together to support students.
There is so much going on across this state - I want to give you a couple of examples. In Hardin, they created an after-school credit recovery program for seniors who were short of credits to graduate. Every student who participated graduated on-time with their class - more than 20 students who were inspired and motivated by just a little extra help. When I was at Hardin's Graduation Matters kick-off event, they had students who wrote essays, had an art contest, and created public service announcements. One Hardin student told her teacher, "I looked Denise Juneau in the eye and pledged to graduate from high school, and I'm going to do it." That's the power of high expectations.
In Miles City, the student-led Graduation Matters event had students, teachers, and community members attempt to set the Guinness world record for largest number of people engaged in a thumb war.
In Kalispell, they recently brought all 700 of their 8th graders to the fairgrounds for a Graduation Matters event. Participating students agreed that graduation is the key to pursuing their dreams, achieving success and gaining respect in their community.
In St. Ignatius, I attended an all-grade community showcase evening event. The entire school focused on Graduation Matters activities. A few days later, I received a note from a mom who wrote that her son gave her a framed picture of him posing with his pledge to graduate for mother's day.
Just last week, I was in Browning for their Graduation Matters event. 1,800 K-12 students gathered in the high school gym and took the pledge to graduate. There were original songs, cheers, and dancing. It was quite the celebration, and, really, quite the homecoming.
I visited with one of my classmates who is now a teacher. She told me that she had been skeptical of Graduation Matters. She worried that it was simply a PR campaign and really wouldn't result in much change. But, she said that as they built the program and talked more and more about graduation, she saw a change in her students. They started talking about going to college and their life aspirations. They started taking their discussion about the importance of graduating home. She now believes in Graduation Matters. Those kinds of stories are permeating across the state.
I could use the Legislature's help in promoting the idea that Graduation Matters to everyone in our state. Schools and communities have put in the hard work to focus on increasing the graduation rate-it's now time for you, as state legislators, to step up and partner with these local efforts and set high expectations for all students and schools.
I ask that you work with your colleagues on the Senate Education committee to bring Senate Bill 13, sponsored by Senator Wanzenried, to raise the legal dropout age, back to life and pass it. It's time for the legislature to set the expectation that our students should graduate from high school. You can set that expectation by passing Senate Bill 13. The bill is not a cure-all for our dropout problem. As lawmakers you know that issues as complex as this cannot be solved by one bill. But it does set an expectation that, in today's economic climate, it's imperative that a student have a diploma or certificate as they enter adulthood, and raising the legal dropout age will make a difference. We expect about 250 students annually will change their minds about dropping out if this bill passes.
The last time we raised our expectations of students in this area was 1921 - 90 years ago - when we asked that they stay in school until they turned 16 or completed 8th grade. Our 21st Century realities cannot be sustained by our 100 year old policies. We must set our expectations higher than an 8th grade graduation. A principal from Thompson Falls stated during the hearing that "educators aren't in the business of giving up on students." Let's make that true all across this state - because we know that there are no throwaway kids.
There is also another bill, Senate Bill 14, sponsored by Senator Wanzenried, which will support schools when they do the right thing by allowing students who may need a little extra time to finish their high school diploma, even though they have turned 19 years old. This past year, there were about 50 schools, both large and small, that educated 135 students older than 18.
Right now, we are the only state in the country that does not provide funding for educating these students. I suspect Senate Bill 14 will be on the Senate floor very soon - I urge you to pass it and get it to the Governor's desk.
I know that we must do more than simply make sure students graduate from high school. We must ensure their diploma means something when they cross the stage. That's why I worked with the Board of Public Education to raise our learning standards in English and math, standards that we share with 45 other states.
The OPI and the Board of Public Education have set the stage for great things to happen in our public schools. The Chairperson of the Board of Public Education, Patty Myers, is sitting up here in the front. Please help me thank her for her leadership.
Because of the Board of Public Education's leadership, we no longer have standards that are a mile wide and an inch deep. They are rigorous and provide a clear pathway of learning for each grade level. They make it very clear to parents and teachers what students should be learning. If properly implemented, Montana students will be ready to compete not only with their peers across the country, but across the globe.
Schools have already started aligning their local curriculum to the standards, providing training to teachers and school leaders and educating parents on the upcoming changes. Additional training is needed if we are to be successful in this endeavor. Legislative support in this effort will make sure that every education professional has equal access to high quality training throughout our state. I am requesting a one-time-only $4 million appropriation to support regional training for our schools so every teacher, no matter where they are in Montana, is able to get their students to reach the higher bar set in our new English and math standards.
Technology is also a big part of these new standards and it continues to deeply affect the way we work, and now, with a new online state assessment in 2015, it will help inform how our schools perform - not only across the state, but compared to schools across the country.
Our schools need to have 21st Century classrooms where technology is a tool that is integrated into learning. I have been to schools that use document cameras, laptop carts and Promethean boards - the interactive "smart boards" that are changing the way some lessons are being delivered. In Lavina, students use their school laptop to conduct science research on insects. The teacher says the use of technology in classroom lessons has created a classroom full of excited and motivated research scientists.
East Helena schools bought iPads for every 3rd and 6th grader in their school district. Other grades have access to mobile technology labs of computers and other devices. They use these new devices to access lessons that are not available in their textbooks. The school board is using technology to prepare their kindergarten students to enter the workforce in 2025, and changing their instruction to match a world that we can only imagine.
In that spirit, I ask you to support Governor Bullock's $6 million one-time-only request to help all schools beef up their technology and move toward every classroom being a digital one.
As I stated earlier, I get to travel all across our state and observe great classroom teaching and learning. This fall, I was in Great Falls to attend their Graduation Matters kick-off. They highlighted the class of 2025 - this year's first graders. That makes you feel old, right? They asked each student what they wanted to be when they grew up. There were a few scientists, a couple rock stars - then one little girl stated that she wanted to be a rainbow unicorn.
It got me thinking - how do we support every child to reach their dreams? What career track and course offerings and curriculum do we provide to this young student to achieve her dreams? Then, one of the administrators told me that children who dream of becoming rainbow unicorns become our future teachers.
It's true that our teachers are resourceful, innovative, and caring. They work every day to teach students to think critically, build imagination, and develop creativity. Our classroom teachers are the everyday heroes in our education system, and they deserve our respect. No other profession is more responsible for securing our economic future.
We also have teachers that go above and beyond the call of duty. These are our Teachers of the Year. I want to introduce Montana's 2013 Teacher of the Year, Eileen Sheehy - who is sitting here in the front row. I visited Billings West High School right after she received teacher of the year status. It was during a student assembly where students gave her a standing ovation and a bouquet of flowers. Every person I talked to - students, teachers, and administrators - all spoke highly of Ms. Sheehy. I know that she is a great representative of Montana's teaching profession. In the words of one of her students, "she is pretty stellar." Please help me to thank Ms. Sheehy for growing up to be one of Montana's most impressive rainbow unicorns.
When we get down to the basics of public education, we need to not only respect the people who work in schools, we must also listen to students. Two years ago, I started the first ever Student Advisory Board. Forty students from across the state let me know what is happening in their schools and classrooms and advise me on how we might best move Montana's education system forward. These students are from both large and small schools, some are valedictorians of their class, some have dropped out of school and dropped back in, some have lots of family and community support, some struggle to make it to school every day. Each one of them is inspiring.
One of my former Student Advisory Board members is in the gallery today, Sapphire Carter. She is a graduate from Rocky Boy High School, a member of the Chippewa-Cree Tribe and is now attending Carroll College, double majoring in History and Political Science. She and a fellow student started a mentoring program at their high school, partnering an upperclassman with an entering freshman to provide on-the-ground training for navigating high school. It's an example of a great student-led program and student leadership.
I had the honor of being the commencement speaker for Sapphire's graduating class where she was the valedictorian and it was announced that she was a recipient of a Gates Millennium Scholarship, a full-ride to college. I recently asked Sapphire about her experience on the Student Advisory Board. She said that, as a result of her experience on the board, she is now committed to encourage others to finish high school and attend college. She learned how much an education is worth - that an education is the difference between economic security and having no food on the table. She is now interning at the Commissioner of Higher Education's office and working with GEAR UP, a program that helps other students set their sights on college. Thank you, Sapphire, for helping to make Montana's future a little more bright.
I will continue my work with my Student Advisory Board. I learn so much from them about what it is like to be a young person growing up in the 21st Century. They also let me know when my ideas are "lame" and should be thrown aside. We could all benefit from their candidness about our policy ideas. Our young people are smart, creative, and ready to lead.
Students tell me the number one thing they want in their learning is relevancy. And, there is not a more relevant learning experience than the one offered by career and technical education courses. It is an important component of Graduation Matters. In fact, students who take three or more Career and Technical Education courses have a graduation rate of 96%, far exceeding the statewide average.
As I travel the state speaking with business leaders, I am consistently told they are looking for employees not only with academic knowledge but also with skills such as a strong work ethic, time management, team work, communications, problem-solving, and self-confidence. These are exactly the type of skills that students attain when they are part of Career and Technical Student Organizations.
Newer student organizations like Health Occupation Students of America are recruiting and preparing the future health professionals of our state, and FFA, which has been thriving in Montana since the 1930s, continues to provide thousands of Montana students with learning and leadership opportunities.
Keeping our Career and Technical Student Organizations thriving is a critical piece of my Graduation Matters agenda this legislative session. I'm working with Rep. Jesse O'Hara on a proposal to increase state support for these programs by $1 million so they can expand their membership and continue to graduate students who are prepared for college and the workforce.
As part of Graduation Matters Montana, I have also forged a strong partnership with the Montana University System and Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian. Over the past two years, we have worked together to streamline our systems so more students have the opportunity to attend college. We are connecting our data systems so students can push a button and send their high school transcript to any college for admission. We will connect the new Common Core standards to entry level college courses so everyone is on the same page about the content students must have to be prepared for college algebra and Composition 101.
This will help to decrease our remediation rates and make sure our high school students not only graduate, but that they are prepared for college if they choose to attend. We have worked together so this spring, every high school junior will have the opportunity to take the ACT at no cost to their family.
Thank you to our Board of Regents Chairperson, Angela McLean, and Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian, for your commitment to access and affordability in our university system for every Montanan.
We are also working together to increase the number of high school students taking college courses before they graduate. I meet high school students who are getting a head start on becoming nurses, IT specialists, auto mechanics, chefs, or engineers through dual credit programs. We know that high school students who take college-level courses are more likely to graduate, enter college, and stay in college. Montana currently ranks 37th in the nation for the percentage of 15 to 17 year olds taking at least one college course. We can do better.
I ask you to support the Governor's budget proposal for $2M to help boost our two-year college participation, including dual credit opportunities. I also ask you to support House Bill 166, sponsored by Representative Amanda Curtis, which redirects lottery proceeds to Montana University System student aid, part of which includes tuition reimbursement to families paying for their high school student to take college-credit courses before they graduate.
I am proud to be the top advocate for public education. Public education means so much to all of us. It is still the great equalizer. It is the last great public endeavor we have in America that is open to all, to every citizen. Public education proves that America is still the land of opportunity.
I know the value of a Montana public education because it's a gift I was given. It is part of who I am, and part of what drove me to become an educator. And I know what we have to lose if we don't preserve and strengthen public education for generations to come.
There is no better economic development tool than making sure our young people receive a quality education so they can secure a good job and are better able to support a family. To be pro-business, you have to be pro-education.
As your State Superintendent, I will continue to celebrate the great things happening in our public education system. I will continue to confront our challenges head-on by working with local schools and communities. I will continue to fiercely advocate for all those who dedicate their lives to public education and most of all, for our kids.
Join me in standing up for our kids, our public schools, and all the parents, educators, staff, and leaders who work daily to build a more prosperous future for Montana. We need to unite behind public education. An investment in public education is an investment in our future. It is the number one jobs issue of this legislative session. I call on you to do the right thing and invest in our public schools so they have the resources they need to stay at the top of the nation.
Thank you for all that you do for the State of Montana. I consider it an honor to work with you.