State schools chief addresses 'Educators for a Day'

2011-11-16T20:00:00Z 2011-11-16T22:14:16Z State schools chief addresses 'Educators for a Day'By ROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
November 16, 2011 8:00 pm  • 

Samuel Thomas spent half his morning Wednesday with the principal at Washington Elementary.

The other half he spent in a kindergarten classroom.

"It was a blast," he said.

Thomas, a select accounts executive for Century Link, was one of 75 business leaders, community officials and parents who took part in Educator for a Day, an annual outreach event organized by the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools.

Those participating spent the morning in Billings schools and then gathered at 11:30 a.m. for lunch at Montana State University Billings and to hear a message from Denise Juneau, the state superintendent of schools.

Juneau recently launched the Graduation Matters Montana campaign in an effort to cut in half the state's high school dropout rate. Each year, about 2,000 high school students drop out of Montana schools, she said.

Speaking to the Educators for a Day participants, she thanked them for getting involved with local schools and praised their willingness to volunteer within their communities.

She then stressed the importance of preparing students to graduate from high school.

"They're the workforce of tomorrow," she said.

Every year, around 250 kids drop out from Billings' three high schools, she said. A push by educators and community members could help to staunch the flow.

Business leaders know how important an educated workforce is, she told the group. More high school graduates ultimately mean a stronger economy for the state, she said.

Billings School District 2 has partnered with Juneau's office and started its own initiative called Graduation Matters Billings.

Juneau explained that it's more than getting students out the door with a diploma. It's just as important that they're ready for "whatever door" opens to them, she said.

"It's about making sure students are college- and career-ready when they graduate," she said.

Right now, about 52 percent of Montana's high school graduates go on to college. Juneau said by 2020 at least 63 percent of the jobs in the state will require a college degree.

Her hope is that the communities around the state will work to increase the success of their schools — Montana students regularly score above their peers on a national level, she said — and give Montana the tools it will need to succeed in the 21st century.

"Here in Montana, we have work to do," she told them. "I know we can do better."

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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