Last school year, Billings West High graduated 391 students in the class of 2011, but during the school year, 77 other students (grades 9-12) dropped out. At Billings Senior, the 2011 grads numbered 379 and the dropouts 129. Skyview High graduated 284 students but lost 55 to dropping out.
Montana’s largest school district produces the most high school graduates and the most high school dropouts.
Billings Public Schools can do better.
The district, joining with community partners, has set a goal of cutting its dropout rate in half by 2014. If the 261 dropouts last school year had been reduced by half, 130 more students would have stayed in school. That’s a worthy goal.
The effort to help more students earn their diploma is called Graduation Matters Billings. It is part of a statewide initiative launched by Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau to cut the state dropout rate in half by 2014.
Statistics for 2011 show a statewide dropout rate of 4.3 percent. Billings public high school rates were 5 percent for Skyview, 4.7 percent for Senior and 4.8 percent for West. Billings has more work to do than most districts.
Juneau stopped in Billings Tuesday to give Graduation Matters Billings a boost. She announced that Billings Public Schools is one of the school districts selected for a $10,000 grant from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation of Missoula. In consultation with Graduation Matters founding partners, the district will use this grant to research the reasons why Billings students drop out and to hire a consultant to lead the partnership in developing an action plan to cut the dropout rate by half.
Billings education advocates can look to our Western Montana neighbors for proof that goal is attainable. Missoula Public Schools launched Graduation Matters Missoula two years ago and saw their dropout rate plummet. In 2011, Missoula high schools had the lowest dropout rates among AA high schools, with two schools below 3 percent. When Billings does as well, dozens more teens will graduate each year.
We commend the district leadership, especially Superintendent Jack Copps, for making graduation a higher priority.
Billings won’t lower educational standards to raise its graduation rate, Copps said.
“It’s not just about graduating but that the diploma means something when the student walks across the stage at graduation,” Juneau said.
We salute the Graduation Matters Billings founding partners: United Way of Yellowstone County, Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools, Billings Area Chamber of Commerce, Rocky Mountain College and Montana State University Billings.
The project is bolstered with pledges of support from local organizations that have signed on as community partners: Altana Federal Credit Union, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Billings Chamber of Commerce, Billings Clinic, Billings Education Association, Billings Gazette, Boys and Girls Club of Yellowstone County, ConocoPhillips, CTA, DOWL HKM, Eide Bailly, First Interstate Bank, GFWC-Billings Junior Women’s Club, Montana Bioscience Alliance, Optimum, RiverStone Health, RSVP, St. Vincent Healthcare, Sanderson Stewart, Center for Children and Families, Underriner Motors, Upward Bound, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, Western Security Bank, Yellowstone County 4-H, Yellowstone County Court Services and Young Families Early Head Start.
We look forward to seeing Graduation Matters Billings volunteers partner with our schools to design strategies that work better for all our 16,500 K-12 students.