Breaking the Monopoly of Mediocrity, a cross-country tour focused on education reform, stopped in Billings on Thursday evening.
The Institute for a Competitive Workforce, an affiliate of the U.S Chamber of Commerce, and the Billings Chamber of Commerce Convention & Visitors Bureau partnered to host the event held at the Babcock Theater. About 50 people interested in addressing local challenges in public education and workforce development attended.
“Tonight is meant to be a catalyst for conversation,” said John Brewer, Billings Chamber of Commerce president. The second segment of the tour's stop is Friday.
The conversation tackled topics such as teaching reform, student achievement, the school board and the facilities master plan.
To kickoff the conversation, the event screened “Won’t Back Down” — a film about a single mother’s struggle to create meaningful change in her daughter’s chronically failing school.
“We are at a critical point for collaboration with business and education leaders to ensure our students graduate high school with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce,” Brewer said.
Despite having some of the higher levels of academic achievement nationally, 93 of the School District 2 classrooms do not meet accreditation for student-to-teacher ratio standards, Brewer said.
“Overcrowding is a serious issue for the district,” he said.
Brewer also noted that one in five SD2 students does not complete high school.
“This is by no means a finger-pointing issue,” he said. “This is a societal issue that we need to come together to improve as a community.”
The Chamber, he said, advocates for business needs and economic growth by looking at the success of the education system.
“More people will be attracted to enter our community if our school system is thriving,” Brewer said.
Cecilia Retelle, senior director for the Policy Institute for a Competitive Workforce, said the tour will visit 13 cities where information gathered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress about each city’s school districts is distributed.
“Improving learning outcomes isn’t just a concern for schools and educators,” Retelle said. “We have a shared responsibility to make sure districts have the tools and resources they need to help all students succeed in the classroom, the workplace, and beyond.”
A Friday breakfast that was planned as a continuation of the discussion was canceled.