Q&A: Denise Juneau, Blackfeet, on education in Montana

"n 2010 Denise Juneau, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, was elected as Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, becoming the first Native American in Montana history to win a statewide election. Juneau, whose parents were teachers and who attended Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, has long been interested in the politics that determine how children are taught and what resources are devoted to schools. She recently spoke with me about her commitment to K-12 public education and about the reforms that she is pushing to improve the quality of education provided to children in low-income communities.

Denise, where are you from?

I grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation, in a town called Browning, a place where there’s not much economic opportunity, where unemployment hovers around 60 percent—not just during the recession but always. My parents were both teachers. They became educated after my brother and I were born, and always impressed upon us the importance of becoming educated. They grew up in deep poverty, my mother in North Dakota, my father here in Montana. They knew education really made a difference. Because they were teachers, we did not get to mess around too much. We were both pretty successful in high school, but some of my peers did not make it through high school. Some are in prison or are dead. I look back and see the kids who made it through school—it made a huge difference in their lives, which made me believe in the power of public education and what it can do for individuals and communities and the state."

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Questions for Montana Superintendent Denise Juneau (The Nation 2/2)

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