Tattered Billings textbooks

Aging Senior High School textbooks with missing and taped covers fill a shelf as School District 2 hopes to pass a levy. Some classes are using texts 20 years old.

Warning: I know that new superintendents are expected to patiently listen and learn as they settle into a new community. They certainly shouldn’t come in and quickly ask for more money. However, after just a few months on the job, it became apparent that we need to immediately address a critical funding need.

We must act now so our high school students have the resources and guidance to compete with other Montana students and others across the nation for college and career opportunities. This is why we must pass a high school levy on May 7.

We find it difficult and often impossible to expand our Advance Placement offerings due to lack of materials, equipment and training. Our high school learning materials are outdated, some more than 15-20 years old. We lack enough guidance counselors to help students properly prepare for their future. Our students are relying on us.

Future workforce

My main goal upon arrival was, and continues to be, to meet as many people as possible and build meaningful relationships. Early in my career I learned the most important lesson in life: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I am extremely impressed with the pride citizens have for this community, and applaud their care and passion in ensuring our students receive a quality education.

I have focused much of my time listening to the community, gathering information on how my role can support and assist the needs of our constituents and students. It is extremely evident that the community needs a highly trained workforce to replace retirees and fill the new, ever-evolving workforce needs.

As we look at our existing K-12 education system, we have been focused on preparing students to enter college, yet fall short in our efforts to place students in an active career while in or immediately following high school. It is time to shift the paradigm and endorse a new vision, one of encouraging our students to see themselves in a career, engage in workplace opportunities, and support their growth with post-secondary educational opportunities.

Career pathways

Too often we look past common sense to solve difficult problems. As all of us starting out in life quickly learned, it is not so much what we know, but rather who we know. Common sense tells us to build connections with our community and introduce our students to those connections. Until now, we have not been proactive in assisting students in career pathway identification, rather we have been hoping they find the right “who to know” to begin their professional lives. Due to the workforce demand, we must partner together to engage our students in a meaningful path to a successful life and take advantage of the available opportunities.

Our teachers and students have had to rely on outdated instructional materials and equipment, while having to compete for post-secondary opportunities. I am concerned that our students are expected to perform on the same level as students across our state, nation and the world without having equal resources. This levy will provide up-to-date resources for our teachers to teach and students to learn, as well as helping them be more competitive for educational and employment opportunities.

We must provide our most precious resource — our students — the tools to move forward on a level playing field.

Thank you for your support of our students and staff. Please join me in supporting the high school levy. This is a win-win for everyone.

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Greg Upham is superintendent of Billings School District 2.