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Apr 5, 2023
Flathead Beacon

Gianforte Discusses Work-Based Learning at Kalispell Roundtable

By Denali Sagner

Governor Greg Gianforte on Wednesday met with educators, business representatives and high school students at Flathead High School to discuss transformational education and work-based learning, programs that have been spearheaded by the Kalispell Public Schools in recent years.

“We need more innovation in education, and it’s going on here at Flathead,” the governor said in his opening remarks. “For student success, really Montana’s future depends on the work that you all are doing here.”

Participants in the governor’s roundtable included Kalispell Public Schools (KPS) Superintendent Micah Hill, Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lorraine Clarno, Kalispell City Council President Chad Graham, Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC) President Jane Karas, and a number of KPS administrators. Students participating in the district’s internship program also spoke with the governor, as well as the employers that have taken on students as interns.

Earlier this year, KPS Director of Work-Based Learning Mike Kelly helped to spearhead an internship program for students at Flathead and Glacier high schools, which allows high school students to fit hands-on internships into their everyday schedules. Current businesses and organizations employing Kalispell high school interns include Kalispell Ford, Bliven Law Firm, Northwest Plumbing, the Flathead National Forest, Glacier Jet Center, the Hockaday Museum, Kalispell Parks and Recreation and Knife River.

Gianforte praised KPS and Hill for the district’s work-based learning programs, and emphasized a need to expand experiential education opportunities throughout the state.

“We need more classroom innovation, we need to bring the marketplace closer to education,” the governor said. “We need to keep moving the ball down the field.”

High school students who have participated in internships shared their experiences during the roundtable, with many saying that the program helped them understand career options after high school and allowed them to plan more accurately for their post-graduate plans.

Representatives from local businesses also praised the program, calling it a “win-win” for the valley, as it allows students to explore career paths while helping the Flathead Valley grow the next generation of employees at home. Business leaders said that the internship program has exposed students to fields of work they were previously unaware of, helping to build excitement about a wider array of career paths.

The governor also highlighted the work of Karas at FVCC. Karas began working at the community college in 1999, and oversaw major building expansions, the addition of numerous academic programs, and increased partnerships with local businesses.

“After 22 years as president of FVCC, the partnerships, as you’ve heard from everybody, are critical,” Karas said, underscoring “the ability to work closely with our school district partners to help students have those apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship experiences.”

Gianforte voiced his support for a number of education bills currently moving through the Montana Legislature, including House Bill 257, which would expand funding for advanced learning opportunities; House Bill 588, which would increase starting salaries for teachers; and House Bill 749, which would revise the Montana University System’s digital academy.

In discussing his support for various education bills, the governor specifically praised the work of freshman Rep. Courtenay Sprunger, R-Kalispell, who was not in attendance at the roundtable, for her introduction of House Bill 257, as well as a number of bipartisan bills related to housing and infrastructure.

“She’s doing a great job for you down in the Legislature,” Gianforte said.

The governor also emphasized the role that housing plays in developing a successful workforce. The Legislature on Monday voted down one of the governor’s major housing bills — the HOMES Act — in a bipartisan 30-69 vote. Gianforte told the Beacon he hopes the bill will still pass through the Legislature.

“We want to encourage smart, denser housing so it’s more affordable,” Gianforte told the attendees of the roundtable. “If you build smaller houses on smaller lots, maybe even multi-family, they cost less. This is a part of the American dream.”

Towards the end of the discussion, the governor asked participants what the state could do to help facilitate further work-based learning opportunities. Hill and Karas emphasized the importance of state funding in order to endow specialized programs for students.

“There needs to be some additional support there,” Hill said.