Denise Juneau has spent her adult life ensuring that all Montanans have access to a quality education that can open the doors to a better future. Her work in public schools and leading the state’s education agency has meant increased opportunities for Montanans, and a collective boost to the state’s economy.
Denise’s Montana roots run deep. Her family’s ancestry traces back to before Montana was even a state, possibly 54 generations on this soil. She attended Head Start in Billings while her parents worked their way through college. By 2nd grade, her family moved to Browning where Denise’s grandmother was a school cook and mother to eight children, her grandfather was a medal-awarded veteran, police officer and drove school buses, and her parents were educators. Denise’s first job was alongside her grandma in the school kitchen.
She experienced first-hand the value of education and public service and recognizes they can change the course of someone’s life.
After graduating from Browning High School, Denise received her bachelor’s degree in English from Montana State University. She continued her education and earned a master’s from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. After teaching in North Dakota and Montana and working at the state education agency, Denise set her sights on the legal profession and received her juris doctorate from the University of Montana School of Law.
Denise is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes and a descendant of the Blackfeet tribe. In 2008, she became the first American Indian woman in the country ever elected to an executive statewide office. In 2012, she was reelected to a second term as Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.
As Superintendent, Denise launched an unprecedented effort to make sure all Montana students who graduate from high school are prepared for college or military and civilian careers. She developed a statewide initiative, Graduation Matters Montana, which has made a positive difference in more than 50 communities. Graduation Matters Montana brings school, business leaders, community members, students and families together to work toward a common goal – that every student graduates from high school ready to succeed. Since the start of Graduation Matters, Montana’s graduation rate has increased to its highest level ever recorded.
Denise’s success in raising Montana’s graduation rate has a direct impact on improving the state’s economy. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, the increase in Montana’s high school graduation rate will equal a $6 million annual boost to the state’s economy.
Denise has also spent seven years as superintendent pushing back on federal education policies that don’t make sense in Montana. She turned a rigid one-size-fits-all federal school improvement grant program into one that fits rural Montana schools. She’s pushed back on federal student testing, and long advocated for repealing No Child Left Behind.
In her tenure as superintendent, Denise has raised academic standards, expanded college and career readiness opportunities and advocated for policies to improve the quality of education in our state and nation. Denise believes that all Montanans have a stake in our public education system, and when Montana students succeed, Montana succeeds.
Denise also sits on Montana’s Land Board, which has a constitutional duty to manage
the state’s natural resources in a way that has the largest financial benefit to public schools. Denise has advocated for responsible natural resource development in a way that benefits Montana’s schools, keeps the state’s resource economy moving forward, and preserves access to public lands.
Denise’s parents, Stan and Carol Juneau live in Great Falls. Her brother, Ron, lives and works in Billings with his family.