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During National School Choice Week, it is important to recognize and celebrate academic innovation that is happening in public schools across Montana. Our state’s education system is unique. We have over 400 hundred school districts and over 800 schools spread out over our vast geographic area. Many districts across our state are creating new programs outside of the traditional school model that prepare students for the future.

Montana only has two formal charter schools, the Bridger Charter Academy in Bozeman and the Lincoln County Vocational School of Innovation, which is a partnership between Libby and Troy. Montana’s charter school laws are different than the type of charters typically heard about at the national level. Our current education system allows local districts like Bozeman, Libby, and Troy to create innovative schools within their district that foster opportunity for all of their students. Added flexibility allows parents and local school districts to provide individual students a valuable education, while maintaining the importance of local control.

The Bridger Program received charter status from the Montana Board of Public Education in May 2016. The local board of trustees was involved in the development of the charter and fully endorses the work being done in the program. The teaching staff are highly qualified members of the school district faculty.

Bridger operates as a school-within-a-school, serving students in grades 9-12 at Bozeman High School. This model offers students the opportunity to learn and grow under a competency-based instructional model. In this model, students progress through coursework based on demonstration of proficiency, rather than a traditional credit attainment model based on seat time. Bridger’s goal: Create a student-centered learning approach that provides the right experience for the right student at the right time.

Currently, Bridger enrolls more than 100 students who are accessing coursework and pursuing credit under the competency-based model. This model provides rigor and flexibility. Students are held to the same high standards and expectations that exist in the traditional high school courses. However, in Bridger, they can learn at their own pace, slowing down when they need to and accelerating when they are able. They also have multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency and reach course goals.

Flexibility creates opportunities for both Montana’s urban and rural students. This is a tribute to the success of our local public education system that makes Montana proud. Join us in celebrating innovation in Montana schools and continue finding new ways to serve students in your community.

Elsie Arntzen is state superintendent instruction. Dr. Robert Watson is superintendent of Bozeman Public Schools.

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