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Define graduation, build for the future

An IR View
2012-08-12T00:10:00Z 2012-08-12T02:21:37Z Define graduation, build for the future Helena Independent Record
August 12, 2012 12:10 am

Kent Kultgen may have started his new job as superintendent of Helena Public Schools during the “quiet” summer when school isn’t in session, but a meeting with the IR editorial board left little doubt that the new schools boss hit the ground running and has ambitious plans for both immediate and long-term improvements to how and where our children learn.

We appreciate Kultgen’s approach of defining a goal, then working with the staff, the community and ultimately the school board on how to achieve it. Leaders who say, “This is where we’re going, and this is how we’re going to get there” risk turning around halfway through the process and realizing that nobody is following them. Kultgen’s approach, “Here is where we’d like to be, how do you think we can get there?” gives everyone a chance to be heard, and by taking a stake in the process, teachers, parents and the community at large will be more supportive of the targets that are identified.

Major changes are coming to our schools — to the schools themselves, many of which are aging, and which aren’t necessarily in the right places to serve our growing and shifting population, but also to the processes by which kids learn things.

Kultgen wants people’s views on “defining graduation” — and defining it far beyond a number of credits or classes to be ticked off a checklist. What exactly does it mean to prepare a young person to succeed in the 21st century? Where do we want to take learning? Once graduation is “defined,” and all the skills that feed into it are spelled out, then Kultgen and the district can set about improving the schools to help more young people reach that goal.

Kultgen brings an appropriate respect for the district and for his predecessors as he prepares to hone his own agenda: “Just because I’m doing something different now doesn’t mean what was done in the past was wrong.” His respect for the district and what he’s found here strikes us as genuine, but he knows there are things that can be improved as well.

The community will have plenty of chances to talk with Kultgen as he and the administration develop their big-picture goals.

After meeting with administrators, a steering committee and the school board later this month, the superintendent plans public meetings at every school in the district over the course of a couple months this fall, soliciting input as the community defines what we want education to look like here.

Kultgen said he won’t be afraid to move in a new direction if that’s the feedback he gets, and we implore Helenans to follow the discussion, take time to attend a meeting or two, and tell school officials what we want and expect from our schools. Kultgen wants to move quickly, but he’s doing so with an open mind. With that in mind, spend some time asking yourself how you’d answer those broad questions about how best to prepare our kids for their futures, and make sure the school district hears from you when it asks what you think.

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