The year 2017 has brought new and expanded partnerships at the Office of Public Instruction, as well as a fresh set of goals and vision for putting Montana students first. I am accomplishing these goals through four key initiatives.

Montana Hope is the whole child approach to serving our children. Supporting mental health allows students to reach their full potential. Partnerships with Shodair, the Montana School Counselors Association, Montana country artist and mental health advocate Jason DeShaw, legislators, and others have brought the discussion of mental health into schools. The OPI has updated anti-bullying resources and are continuing our legislative partnerships with the development of the Montana Suicide Prevention and Response Rulemaking Committee. The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 1 in every 5 high school students in Montana has seriously contemplated suicide. We can and must do better for our students.

Montana Teach is creating exceptional educators and addressing Montana’s teacher shortage, especially in our rural communities. The agency is increasing professional development opportunities for more Montana teachers. This year, the OPI’s Teacher Learning Hub has expanded online resources with 40 new courses in areas such as STEM, Indian Education for All, and ethics. The OPI has strengthened coordination with Montana’s teacher prep programs as well as our rural and tribal education partners. The culmination of this is recognizing the regional and cultural diversity of our state’s excellent teachers through the Montana Teacher of the Year Program.

Montana Learn is providing students with the skills that are needed to succeed in our future economy. STEM and CTE education are critical to placing the next generation into science, technology, engineering, healthcare, high-tech manufacturing, and high-tech agriculture industries where skilled workers are in high demand. This focus has to begin early, starting with math development in elementary and middle school. Montana’s federal ESSA plan reflects the importance of STEM education by including these as indicators of student success and school quality. The agency has recently established a new math task force and innovative learning task force with a focus on personalized learning. The OPI is partnering with the Montana Department of Agriculture to transition the Agriculture in the Classroom program to our agency, while strengthening high school agriculture career pathways.

Montana Ready is an investment in the future of our state. The Montana Department of Labor and Industry projects that through 2025 an additional 5,100 jobs will need to be filled each year due to Montana’s aging workforce. Together with the Montana Contractors Association and Montana Building and Industry Association, the OPI has promoted construction trade career pathways in schools. In 2017, we coordinated events with East Helena Schools, Havre High School, and MSU-Northern to get students on active job sites talking with construction professionals about career opportunities. The OPI has also been working with Montana’s University System through iGraduate, GEAR UP, and the Montana Youth Challenge Academy to ensure that all students are aware of pathways for post-secondary success.

Bringing a fresh approach to business at the Office of Public Instruction has allowed the agency to do more with less. I have reduced state-level spending at the OPI, increased efficiency, and put our full emphasis on serving students. I look forward to even stronger partnerships and greater results for students in 2018.

Elsie Arntzen is Montana's superintendent of public instruction. 

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