Superintendents, principals and school board trustees from across the state are in town learning to be better leaders at the annual Montana Conference of Education Leadership.
The conference began Wednesday afternoon and finishes up today. It pulled in nearly 1,000 educators from all corners of Montana.
“The professional development is pretty good,” said Gary Blaz, superintendent of the Target Range School District in Missoula.
In a state like Montana — large and rural — conferences are often the only chance administrators have to meet and discuss issues facing their schools and districts.
Workshops included topics like balancing First Amendment rights with school governance, the eight issues every trustee will face and school district consolidation. The conference is put on by the Montana School Boards Association, School Administrators of Montana, the Montana Rural Education Association and the Montana Association of School Business Officials.
“You don’t have many opportunities for this” type of professional development, said Luke Laslovich, a principal in the Target Range School District.
Despite coming from all sides of the state, the issues facing Montana schools — especially its small schools — tend to be very similar.
“You’re still championing the same cause,” Blaz said.
It’s Montana rural setting that drew Valerie Boyd from the Poplar School District, and Rana Annyonette, an assistant principal at Wyola Elementary.
“I want to keep abreast of what’s going on,” Boyd said. “I want to keep on top of what’s happening in education.”
Both women spent time in workshops learning about education reform and hearing about ways to make gains at small, isolated schools.
In fact, Annyonette said her school is beyond rural. It’s still on the frontier, she said.
“Sure, it’s a small school,” she said. “But it’s a really good school.”
She worries about the advent of charter schools and the kind of impact they might have on small schools like hers.
Boyd praised the conference’s keynote speaker, who addressed many of these topics. Jon Reyner, a professor of bilingual multicultural education at Northern Arizona University, spoke to the group Wednesday.
Boyd said she believed Reyner addressed succinctly the need to empower students to be creative and the need for teachers to create an individualized education for students.
“We give (students) a roadmap to think on their own and create their own futures,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is set to speak to the educators during their first meeting this morning.
Contact Rob Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1231.