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Viewpoint: Voters must choose carefully in Missoula’s school board election

My brother-in-law, a teacher in Alaska, describes the ideal relationship between teachers and parents as a “good marriage” where everyone is focused on students’ success. Student success is what is at stake in the present school election, as school board members also must put the success of all students first and foremost.

Thirteen candidates are applying for six openings on the Missoula County Public Schools Board of Trustees. Missoula County residents must choose wisely. Most candidates agree on the immediate tasks for the school board, but questions remain about how best to proceed and how to ensure that our children and youth receive the best possible education to reach their potential.

I was appointed to the board in September because no one ran for the seat. I have been impressed with both the dedication of the board members elected previously and the sustained interest of many in our community. We receive emailed Public Comments in advance and every meeting is attended by community members. Agendas, Minutes, and Public Comments are available on the Trustee website (https://www.mcpsmt.org) and the board listens to comments subject to Montana’s open meeting statutes.

Given current polarization, it is not surprising that disagreements occur, but overall, the majority of letters and verbal comments are positive. For example, more than 80% of submitted comments supported COVID mitigation strategies adopted by the schools. I would like to see more participation. On April 12, we welcomed the Robotics Team and later discussed the proposed science curriculum. No parents were in the room for that discussion, but all materials are available for inspection.

During my review today, I saw evidence of the diligent work of the curriculum committee and was given enthusiastic guidance by the teachers on site. Parents and community members should take up the offer to examine these materials and see what students will be learning. Admittedly, when I was in elementary school we did not study plate tectonics or biomimicry but today’s students learn about these topics as well as waves and light, thermal energy, and other science topics.

These are the sorts of collaborations we need between teachers, parents, and community members. But I am not sure all candidates are wedded to that idea, as apparent in posted public comments and websites. Several candidates are committed enough to their children’s education to homeschool them but wish to make decisions for all our children. In March, three candidates participated in a presentation titled “The Missoula Government School System: the largest Communist school in Montana.”

I find this worrisome. Parental and community input is essential to ensuring productive interactions to make schools as effective as they can be. I put my trust in the voters of Missoula County to determine who can best provide leadership for our children and youth.

Arlene Walker-Andrews is a candidate, for MCPS District B (Target Range and Bonner)