Montana Arts Standards: An Interview with Superintendent Denise Juneau

Posted by Deb Vaughn, Dec 16, 2015 0 comments

With the publication of National Core Arts Standards in 2014, states around the country began to consider how they might inform standards at the state level. While each state process is unique, there is much to be learned from our colleagues at different points in the journey.

The state of Montana is nearing the end of their adoption process (scheduled adoption date is July, 2016). Last week, I had the opportunity to ask Superintendent Denise Juneau, a former teacher who understands well how a well-rounded education that includes the arts leads to college and career preparedness, about the work Montana has undertaken over the last year.

Deb Vaughn: What was most important about this work to the State of Montana?

Superintendent Juneau: The arts play an important role in education. The study of music, visual arts, dance, theater and media arts encourages students to use imagination, innovation, creativity, and to take risks to create something new. These are the types of skills needed in today’s world. In order to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, we need creative and innovative ways of thinking. 

The Montana content standards for art have not been updated in 15 years. The revised standards are discipline-specific and cover five areas, theatre, visual arts, dance, media arts, and music. It’s important to remember these are standards, not curriculum. They define what students should know and be able to do at each grade or grade-band, but they do not dictate how a teacher should teach. Standards are the overarching measures of competency. Local school districts determine how those standards are met.

DV: Who were the key partners in the process and what was the timeline?

SJ: The Office of Public Instruction contracted with the Montana Arts Council to help with the process of standards revision. In the spring of 2015 we conducted a series of focus groups and surveyed educators to get information about what quality standards would look like for Montana schools. Writing teams worked on standards in the late summer and fall. Currently, the standards are being reviewed by a Negotiated Rule Making Committee comprised of teachers, administrators, parents, school board members, and tax payers. I will make a recommendation to the Board of Public Education to adopt the standards. The scheduled date for adoption is July 2016.

DV: What do you want to see schools and districts do after these standards are adopted? What will be different “the day after”?

SJ: These new standards also provide parents, teachers, and students with a clear roadmap of the knowledge and skills required in the five art disciplines in each grade level and grade band. The standards will help schools set benchmarks for competency in elective as well as required courses in the arts. 

In addition, the writing teams developed model curriculum guides for each of the art standards – the curriculum will be available for school districts to use if they so choose.

DV: What is the most important outcome for you in this process?

SJ: Our world has changed a lot in 15 years, and it’s important these new standards reflect that. Plus, Montana’s constitution requires that all students learn about the culture and contributions of Montana’s Indian tribes. The revised standards include language to incorporate the traditional and contemporary artistic works of American Indians in each of the disciplines.

Thanks to Emily Kohring, Montana Arts Council Director of Arts Education, and Emilie Ritter Saunders, Montana Office of Public Instruction Communications Director, for their assistance in arranging this interview.

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