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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Q&A: Susie Hedalen, Republican Candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction

Susie Hedalen
Susie Hedalen
Candidate Q&A
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We are gathering information from all statewide candidates as a resource for the 2024 Primary Elections. Responses were limited to 200 words per question. Political attacks may have been removed, but otherwise, the responses are published unedited.
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We are gathering information from all statewide candidates as a resource for the 2024 Primary Elections. Responses were limited to 200 words per question. Political attacks may have been removed, but otherwise, the responses are published unedited.

Susie Hedalen, Republican Candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction

Full Name as on Ballot: Susie Hedalen
Age: 40
Residence: Townsend, MT

What is your education background?

I graduated from Montana State University, Bozeman, with a Bachelor's in Elementary Education, a Master's in Educational Leadership, and a Certificate in Native American Studies.

Please list your current and previous occupations.

I am currently the Superintendent of Townsend School District and the Vice-Chair of the Montana Board of Public Education. I previously served as Deputy Superintendent for the Montana Office of Public Instruction and have extensive experience working in the K-20 school systems throughout the state.

I have worked as an educator and administrator in class C to AA schools across Montana and have collaborated with various Tribal Nations.

What motivated you to seek the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction?

I am running for State Superintendent to get education back to basics, put parents and students first, and keep our schools safe. I have spent my career as an educator in Montana, serving as a teacher and administrator in our state’s most rural class C schools up to our largest AA schools. As a lifelong educator, I am passionate about expanding educational opportunities for Montana students and getting education back to basics. My previous service at the Office of Public Instruction and on the State Board of Public Education has prepared me to serve Montana’s families and teachers effectively as the next State Superintendent.

I am dedicated to enhancing academic achievements across core subjects like reading, writing, math, science, and civics, alongside broadening career and technical education pathways. Parent engagement and school safety will always be top priorities as well. Parents deserve to know what their children are learning and that they are in a safe environment. Prioritizing the basics empowers teachers to effectively impart knowledge and enables students to engage in learning, all while guarding against indoctrination within the classroom.

What policies, if any, should the state use to improve teacher pay and recruit and retain educators?

Montana's teacher shortage is impacting all our communities. As state leaders, we must adopt a range of approaches to support teachers and inspire young individuals to pursue careers in education. We can build upon recent efforts by the Governor and Legislature to increase starting teacher pay through the TEACH Act, reduce healthcare costs by successfully implementing the educator healthcare trust program. Additionally, we should continue looking at ways to reduce administrative burdens and red tape in education so that more funding goes directly to the classroom. The Board of Public Education has recently led efforts to remove bureaucratic red tape in accreditation and licensure, making it easier for people to enter the teaching profession and focus on teaching instead of checking arbitrary state boxes. As State Superintendent, I will advocate for the federal government to remove unnecessary mandates placed on our school.

How will you ensure the constitutional requirement for students to learn about Native American history and culture is implemented in Montana schools?

Montana's constitution uniquely mandates Indian Education for All, distinguishing our public education system. Complementing my teaching and administrative credentials, I hold a certificate in Native American Studies and serve as the liaison to the Montana Advisory Council on Indian Education for the Board of Public Education. Ensuring that Montana students know the current and historical cultures of our state’s tribal nations is essential not only for American Indian students but also for all Montana students. As State Superintendent, I will seamlessly weave Montana and tribal history into civics education and across all subjects. This entails establishing collaborative partnerships with tribal education leaders and offering extensive professional development opportunities for educators.

2024 Election Breakdowns
2024 Election breakdown: Montana governor's race
The presumed frontrunners in the race are Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Gianforte, a former tech entrepreneur from Bozeman, and Democrat Ryan Busse, a political newcomer and former firearms industry executive from Kalispell.We’ve also got Libertarian Kaiser Lieb, who runs a comedy production company, Republican Rep. Tanner Smith, a legislator and construction business owner from Lakeside, and Democrat Jim Hunt, an attorney in Helena.
2024 Election breakdown: Western U.S. House race
Five names will appear on primary ballots - two Republicans, one Democrat and two Libertarians. Although one of the Libertarians has unofficially dropped out and is not campaigning.
2024 Election breakdown: Attorney General race
There are three candidates in all, two Republicans, Austin Knudsen and Logan Olsen, and one Democrat, Ben Alke. That’s setting up a Republican primary.

What changes, if any, should be made to the state public school’s funding formula?

Montana’s school funding formula has not been critically studied in a decade. Next year, state education leaders and legislators will begin a new study of the school funding formula. As State Superintendent, I plan to play a substantial role in examining what is working and what is not working in how we fund education. We need to ensure that school funding directly supports students and makes its way to classrooms while minimizing administrative costs. This will allow education dollars to stretch further and put the focus where it should be: educating students.

What role do you see charter schools playing in Montana’s education system?

Last year, the Legislature authorized public charter schools in Montana. As a Board of Public Education member, I approved the creation of 19 high-quality charter schools in the state, most of which will begin opening their doors to students this fall. Montana joins 45 other states now in the nation that have expanded school choice in public education through innovative charter schools. In Montana, charter schools are public and open to all students. By extending the education options available to families in our public school system, we fulfill our state’s constitutional obligation to help every student reach their full educational potential. I will continue working with state leaders to expand innovation.

What measures, if any, should lawmakers or school officials take to protect students from gun violence?

The Office of Public Instruction should work with schools to ensure they have robust and up-to-date emergency operations plans, emphasizing threat assessment and prevention. This includes proactive coordination with school resource officers and relationships with local law enforcement. Mental health support and strong family engagement are critical to creating safe schools. Every Montana school and community is unique, and emergency operations plans should reflect local threat assessments. However, every school should have a plan, coordinate with law enforcement, and ensure communication with families.

What should the state Land Board prioritize as it manages state trust lands?

Our state trust lands exist to ensure robust returns to support our local schools. As a Land Board member, I will prioritize active management of our state trust lands to maximize returns for schools. It is important to note that some of our state trust lands contain resources that can only be mined or harvested once. However, others, like timber, can be utilized generation after generation. This happens through active management with a strong focus on sustainability.

By prioritizing active management, we can ensure that resources are harvested for the trust's benefit while providing recreational and new access opportunities. Balancing recreation and industry is crucial, and Montana has successfully achieved this.

Montana exemplifies how we can manage state trust lands to maximize school returns, expand public access, and provide solid returns for our local schools. Our state trust lands, which produce about $50 million yearly in school funding through agriculture, forestry, minerals, and real estate, are a testament to the success of our proactive management approach. By following this model, we can further expand public access and ensure solid returns for our local schools.

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