State Superintendent of Schools Denise Juneau, visiting Billings Tuesday afternoon, apologized to interim Superintendent Jack Copps for not having a giant novelty check to hand him.

“Don’t worry,” she quipped, “it’s in the mail.”

The check is for $10,000 to help Billings School District 2 improve its high school graduation rate through the advocacy campaign Graduation Matters Billings.

“Billings’ efforts are critical to our statewide efforts,” Juneau said.

The money given to SD2 on Tuesday is part of a three-year, $450,000 grant, awarded by the Helena-based Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation given to the Montana Office of Public Instruction in January.

OPI runs the umbrella dropout prevention program Graduation Matters Montana. It’s goal is to cut Montana’s high school dropout rate in half by 2014.

Through the Washington Foundation grant, OPI created the Graduation Matters Montana Challenge Fund with the goal of assisting 10 to 15 new communities each year adopt the Graduation Matters campaign. As many as 45 new communities will be added over the three years.

“This is really exciting,” Copps said Tuesday.

SD2 will use the $10,000 to create and implement a “Graduation Matters action plan,” strengthen partnerships between the community and the district and increase Graduation Matters Billings awareness.

Along with SD2, Graduation Matters Billings has five founding partners — the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools, United Way of Yellowstone County, the Billings Area Chamber of Commerce, Montana State University-Billings and Rocky Mountain College.

“They’ll help us lead the way,” Copps said.

Joining that group are 25 other community groups with the stated goal of helping SD2 improve its graduation rate.

In 2011, Skyview High’s graduation rate was 79.1 percent, Billings Senior High’s was 72.9 percent and Billings West High’s was 81.5 percent.

Recently, technology has helped the district better track students who drop out and identify why it’s happening. In many cases, the students who drop out have tested proficient in reading, Copps said. But those same students have struggled with math.

Newer technology has allowed the district to “drill down” and discover exactly which math concepts are tripping up those students, allowing teachers to better tailor their lessons and their outreach, Copps said.

Part of what makes the Graduation Matters campaign work is the inclusion of local community and business leaders, Juneau said. Once the community is invested in its schools and students see that, the impact can be dramatic, she said.

“Everybody sees the role they can play,” she said.