Gazette opinion: Community key to preventing school dropouts

2010-08-04T21:01:00Z Gazette opinion: Community key to preventing school dropouts The Billings Gazette
August 04, 2010 9:01 pm

The Montana Office of Public Instruction recently improved data collection on dropouts so the numbers are verified and more accurate than every before, according to Denise Juneau, superintendent of public instruction.

Unfortunately, as Juneau says, “Our numbers are going the wrong way.”

In 2009, 80.7 percent of Montana students who had started high school four years earlier graduated. A year earlier, the graduation rate was 82.6 percent and five years before it was 84.8 percent.

Looking at how many students dropped out in a single year, the rate was 5.1 percent statewide in 2008-09, an increase over the dropout rate of 3.3 percent five years earlier.

Billings West High School had a relatively low 2008-09 dropout rate of 3.9 percent. However, Skyview at 5.6 percent and Senior at 7.5 percent were above the state average.

“It’s tough in big districts,” Juneau said. OPI statistics indicate that the highest average dropout rates occur in the largest high schools.

Juneau proposes a statewide campaign for communities to become involved in preventing local dropouts. She wants to model Graduation Matters Montana after Graduation Matters Missoula, a partnership involving Missoula Public Schools, the University of Montana, city and county government and the business community.

“There needs to be a re-visioning of what high school is about,” said Juneau. “School needs to be interesting, engaging, rigorous and challenging.”

Billings has long used some of the ideas incorporated into the Missoula campaign. For example, Partners in Education matches Billings businesses with schools that need volunteers.

What Billings lacks is a comprehensive, coordinated campaign that would ensure that every school and every student benefits from such positive school-community partnerships. Billings folks can change that. Partners in Education is recruiting businesses for volunteer opportunities that would start sometime after classes resume on Aug. 25.

Community members must do everything they can on a local level to maximize the quality of education local children receive. That effort can start with contributions of time — investments in our future employees, community leaders and taxpayers.

As Juneau said: “We need to make sure every child is served.”

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