Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Claudette Morton, a candidate in the hotly contested campaign for state superintendent of public instruction, was in Havre Wednesday to introduce herself to local voters. Morton, who has been working in various fields of public education her entire adult life, said in an interview that she believes she has the most to offer the state as the head of public education in the primary election. “I’m the one with the most experience, the broadest and the most in-depth,” she said. Morton faces Sam Kitzenberg of Glasgow, Holly Raser of Missoula and Denise Juneau of Helena in the Democratic primary June 3. She will return to Havre next week for a superintendent of public instruction candidate forum at the state meeting of the Montana Association of County Superintendents of Schools on Wednesday. Morton, 68, a Billings native and graduate of Billings Senior High School who received bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree from the University of Montana, listed some key issues she would address if elected. One is addressing the federal No Child Left Behind standards, enacted this decade to try to improve the education system and assure all students are meeting standards. Morton said the problem is it does not work in rural areas like Montana, if anywhere. She said she hopes the next authorization of the act will allow more of a partnership, a collaboration, between the federal and state governments and local schools. Morton, who was one of the founders of the Montana Small School Alliance and serves as its executive director, said the alliance tried three or four years ago to find ways for small schools to meet the federal mandates. “We realized that’s impossible,” she said. She said the act is just the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed under President Lyndon Johnson, and federal direction is needed. “It’s just the latest version we are very unhappy with,” She said. A main problem the federal mandates are creating is limiting the focus of education, she added. “We’re so focused on reading and math and now we’ll add science that we’re not able to include the arts and humanities at the level we should, and even comprehensive health education,” Morton said. She said her experience working with groups and bringing people together in collaboration would help in another major issue changing the way public education is funded in Montana. Morton said she wants to bring educators, parents and taxpayers in general together at the table with legislators and the governor’s office to “come up with a formula for sustained adequate funding for public schools. “I have some ideas. I have been out talking to people for about a year now,” she said. She said the system now is too dependent on enrollment numbers and should be balanced with higher payments to quality educators, increased entitlement payments with payments by the number of schools instead of just a payment per district, and increased payments to smaller districts. She said she believes the funding for increased payments could be found in the current budget. One of Morton’s goals, she said, is to increase OPI’s work as a facilitator with local schools. The office should work with communities and schools to help them determine what their programs should look like, she said. “It should be a partnership with the federal and state governments, not something that’s handed down from the top,” Morton said. Morton said her experience in a variety of education fields will help her reach her goals. After she received a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Montana, she worked for a year in Germany, took classes at the University of Texas and taught at Moorhead College in Minnesota. She then returned to Montana, working as a substitute teacher in Missoula and then Glasgow before taking a job teaching English, directing school plays and coaching competitive speech and drama. But, she said, she wondered why the school administration often told her to take certain actions. “I was told, The state makes us do it,’ so I decided to go to the state and find out why they are making us do these things,” Morton said. She went to work for the Office of Public Instruction, as the English language arts specialist, and soon found “the policy had good intentions but as it went down the line some strange things happened to make it not so good for kids,” she said. While with OPI, she wrote a grant application which was approved and led to a collaboration effort with 125 visits by members of higher education and K-12 education visiting schools of all sizes in Montana. “We looked at what we could do collaboratively and see what could be done in schools,” she said. She went back to the University of Montana, earning her doctorate in in school administration and in curriculum and instruction, with a minor in higher education. While working on her doctorate, Morton started work as the executive secretary of the Montana Board of Public Education, and was working in that position when the first major school funding lawsuit went to the Montana Supreme Court in the late 1980s. She also taught as an adjunct professor at Northern Montana College, now Montana State University- Northern, at the time. She then taught at the University of Montana-Western in Dillon as an associate professor and director of the Montana Rural Education Center. In 1996, she helped with the creation of the Montana Small Schools Alliance in collaboration with educators from Montana State University in Bozeman, the Montana Association of County Superintendents and the Montana School Boards Association. Morton said her family is an integral part of her life. She has a son and grandson by her first husband. She married her high school sweetheart, George Miller, after her first husband died. That added two sons, each of whom has two children, and she also still counts a Chinese exchange student her family hosted while in Dillon as part of her family, she said.