During a pep rally, in which Ophir Elementary students met their new teachers and staff on the first day back to school, a special guest appeared—Montana Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney. He took the opportunity to get the kids even more pumped for the new school year, offering some advice: “Do your best, get everything out of it, be the best student you can be—and you’re going to have a wonderful year.”

Lt. Gov. Cooney drops by for first day of school

That first-day-of-school vibe was still fresh when Mike Cooney—Montana’s lieutenant governor—arrived on campus of the Big Sky School District.The quick visit took Cooney from the mountain-themed Ophir library to the colorful lunchroom and into the gym where elementary students met teachers and staff. He then strolled over to the high school for a peek at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, the newly floored gym and the Ophir Community Library.

     This was Cooney’s first visit to BSSD, where he bopped around with Superintendent Dustin Shipman and BSSD Board Chair Loren Bough. 

     Cooney has experienced a number of Montana schools as part of an annual beginning-of-the-year tour. The peaks labeled on the walls of Ophir Library caught his eye—his wife being a mountain climber—so he took a quick photo in front of Granite Peak, a mountain his wife still hopes to tackle.

     “I love this topo map, too,” Cooney said, taking it all in.

     As he headed back to Ophir, Cooney discussed the challenges and opportunities of class C schools, whose athletes must often travel long distances for matchups. 

     Cooney said one of the most common questions he’s asked from young students is what he likes most about the job of lieutenant governor. 

     “The best part of my job is, I get paid to travel around the state of Montana,” he told Shipman and Bough. “And I get to meet people I’d never have met, visit communities I’d likely never have gone to on my own. That is such a rewarding thing to have that opportunity, because you don’t think about some of these places until you go there. You hear the stories, and it takes on a new life.”

     Following his first-day tour in Big Sky, Cooney offered his thoughts on the value of the visits he makes. 

     "Education is such an important thing, and we have to make sure our kids have the opportunity to really—once they’re done—go out and compete in this growing world,” Cooney said, a young family nearby taking pictures of their kindergartener getting ready for his first days of class. “Not just in the United States, but the world. I think it’s so important that they get a great start, and what I saw here in Big Sky is truly amazing. Wonderful facility, dedicated teachers, and the kids seem to be getting one heck of a good education. That’s what I want to see.”

     And then it was back on the road to Helena for Cooney and his executive assistant McCall Flynn. There, later that evening, he planned to join Gov. Steve Bullock at the ribbon cutting of a new elementary school.

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