Sandy Welch, Republican candidate for Montana superintendent of public instruction, said people in the state see a good future for education here.
“There is a lot of excitement, there is a lot of energy, about really understanding and believing that schools in Montana can be world-class, ” Welch said.
Welch is challenging incumbent Denise Juneau, a Democrat, in the Nov. 6 election.
The two have yet to debate face-to-face, an issue Welch’s campaign has raised, but Welch said Tuesday the campaigns are negotiating on setting debates.
The Juneau campaign said Tuesday that a debate was being organized by the Great Falls school district, planned for Oct. 8, and the Montana Conference of Educational Leadership is organizing a forum in Billings for Oct. 18, followed by a forum being organized by the labor union MEA-MFT in Billings the next day.
Welch said the most common concern she is hearing in her travels around the state is that more local control should be given to Montana schools.
“There is great frustration with what is felt to be overreach from Washington, D.C., and Helena, ” she said.
Welch added that many teachers and superintendents are telling her they would like to see more support from the state Office of Public Instruction, rather than regulation.
Those people would like to see OPI offering services like more training, providing the results of research, information on programs that work around Montana and the nation, and connecting schools that are working on similar issues around the state, she said.
She added that some in the profession say that used to be OPI’s role more than it is now.
Welch said that she does not believe reauthorization of the federal education programs will happen before the election, but she expects that to happen next year.
“Our representatives on the national level are hearing a lot of pushback from the states that the feds are overreaching; education is a state issue, ” she added. “So, hopefully, we will see a little bit of pullback from D. C.”
She said she wants to work more on accountability for the schools — especially to people who do not have children in the system.
Several models around the nation report how schools are doing, such as a Florida program that grades schools from an “A” to an “F. ” That allows community members to know how their schools are faring, Welch said.
That tends to help on all levels, she added — when schools are doing very, very well their communities support them. If the schools are doing almost well, community members rally around them and help.
“If they are not doing well, the communities still rally around the schools to help figure out what is going on and how to do better, ” Welch said. “Communities want to know how schools are doing. ”