Montana hands out more Graduation Matters grants

2013-04-11T15:03:00Z 2013-04-12T07:46:04Z Montana hands out more Graduation Matters grantsBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Billings School District 2 will receive another $5,000 from the state Office of Public Instruction to support its local high school graduation campaign. 

State Superintendent of Schools Denise Juneau announced on Thursday that statewide her office handed out $165,000 in grants this week to bolster the new Graduation Matters initiative. 

The money comes from a three-year, $450,000 grant, awarded to OPI last year by the Helena-based Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation to be used specifically for Graduation Matters. 

Juneau praised the foundation for being willing to invest in state public education. 

"The actions people take speak louder than words," she said. 

That also applies to the state legislature, which has done seemingly little to support public education in general and high school graduation in particular in the past few years, she said. 

Over the past two legislatures, Juneau's office has backed legislation that would have allowed 19-year-olds to finish high school, given every junior in high school a chance to take the ACT college entrance exam for free, and raised the legal drop-out age to 18. 

All of it was shot down by legislators, she said. 

Adding to her frustration, on Wednesday the legislature's education committee heavily modified a school funding bill that was designed to bring more funding equity to large urban school districts. 

"There's still a lot of work to be done," she said. 

Graduation Matters has been going for two years and Juneau said she's seeing progress. Drop-out rates statewide have come down and graduation rates are up, she said. OPI is also seeing creative and effective programs coming out of the local communities. 

"We're getting a lot of 'best practices' from across the state," she said. 

For example, a Graduation Matters grant given to School District 2 last year was used by middle school principals to introduce their students to high school and college.

Through the grant, every eighth-grader in the district had the chance to tour a college campus and see what life there is like. And the middle schools have organized assemblies bringing in high schoolers and encouraging students to sign graduation pledges.

The Graduation Matters initiative is statewide and designed to cut Montana’s drop-out rate in half by 2014.

The program focuses on bringing community stakeholders together with schools and students to help high-schoolers want to stay in class.

Missoula Public Schools designed the program in 2009, and after showing early success Juneau adopted it as the state model in 2010.

In the past several years, individual communities have taken the program and tailored it to their own towns and schools.

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