A deputy Hill County attorney and state legislator said this morning she will leave her county job to focus on policy: improving the state of education in Montana.
“I’ve been involved now for a few years on education policy in Montana, ” first-term Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, said this morning, “It was clear, last (legislative) session, that Montana is having a hard time moving forward on modernizing education. ”
Hansen has filed a letter of resignation with the Hill County Attorney’s Office, effective Nov. 30, although she said she could work part-time if the position cannot be filled by then.
Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl was in court this morning and could not be reached for comment, but her office has advertised the position.
Hansen said she has been talking to education groups in the state about taking a job working to provide information about possible education reform legislation to students, parents teachers and administrators, about “getting students excited again about learning. ”
She said she has enjoyed her job as a deputy county attorney and is grateful to have worked in that position, but it would be impossible to focus on education issues and, at the same time, focus on her job in the county government.
“So, I decided to jump into the policy world, ” she said.
Hansen has said she will run for re-election in the 2012 elections.
Hansen said she is negotiating contracts with the education groups to promote their education policies to the public, and declined to name the groups until contracts are finalized.
She said that, while Montana students often test in the high percentiles compared to the rest of the country, other regions are improving their curriculum, technology and teaching methods and could soon surpass the state.
“We have a short window to get on the bus, ” Hansen said. “We can’t afford to wait 10 years to say, ‘oops, Detroit Public Schools are going to pass us. ’”
She said she wants to bring Montana’s education system out of the 1800s. Now, students leave their high-tech environment and go into a classroom with teachers lecturing and hard copies of books to read.
“It’s kind of shocking to their system, ” Hansen said.
She added that she is not criticizing teachers and school administrators.
“I want to put the tools in the teachers’ hands so they can excel and the kids can excel, ” Hansen said.
She said the ideas she is looking at are data-driven, with studies and reports showing ways to improve the performance of the education system.
One example Hansen listed is tying teachers wages to performance, with exceptional pay for exceptional performance, “So we can get the best teachers we can here in Montana. ”
She said the state also needs to start upgrading its technology in the classrooms much faster than it has.
“There are so many exciting things out there, ” Hansen said.
She said the Office of Public Instruction has “finally gotten on board” with updating curriculum standards. Instead of looking at theoretical concepts of what should be known in the core curriculums, reading, writing and mathematics, concrete requirements now are in place.
That gives a better guideline on what needs to be taught, and what the students need to be able to do, she said. Under those standards, a teacher knows what a student at the end of fifth grade should know in mathematics, for example.
She said her work in the 2011 Legislature — Hansen was vice chair of the House Education Committee — helped show her how much work needs to be done to change the way education is presented. The school system opposed even minor policy changes suggested, she said.
“(We would) hit a wall, ” Hansen said.