The statewide program launched last year to persuade Montana students to stay in school and graduate from high school just got a $450,000 boost from a Montana nonprofit.
Graduation Matters Montana was started by Missoula Public Schools in 2009 and after showing early success was adopted by the Montana Office of Public Instruction in 2010.
Since then, state Superintendent Denise Juneau has worked to get individual communities across the state to adopt the program. The three-year, $450,000 grant, awarded by the Helena-based Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, will help her do just that.
School District 2 launched its version of the campaign in November.
“We want this grant to be a game-changer,” said Mike Halligan, executive director of the Washington Foundation.
OPI will have $150,000 a year for the three years of the grant to give to Montana school districts. The idea, using the framework of Graduation Matters, is to award those schools up to $10,000 to replicate successful dropout prevention strategies.
To do it, OPI will form the Graduation Matters Montana Challenge Fund with the goal of assisting 10 to 15 new communities each year adopt the campaign. As many as 45 new communities will be added over the three years.
Applications for the fund can be found at the Graduation Matters Montana website.
Part of what’s made the Graduation Matters campaign work is that it includes local community and business leaders in the effort. Once the community is invested in its schools and students see that, the impact can be dramatic, Juneau said.
Missoula saw its graduation rate jump from 80 percent in 2009 to 87 percent in 2011, she said.
“We were very impressed,” Halligan said.
Juneau’s goal for the state is to cut its dropout rate in half by 2014.
Halligan said Montana needs trained and educated high school graduates. It benefits communities, local businesses and the state as a whole.
“The business community has the most to gain from it because we’re the ones that hire (Montana graduates),” he said.
The goal is to show businesses how they can engage with schools and students to offer training, internships and mentoring — elements that show kids how to be successful outside the classroom, Halligan said.
“Developing Graduation Matters programs in school districts across the state sends a message to our children that we care about them and their future,” he said.