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Montana Superintendent of Schools Denise Juneau

Montana Superintendent of School Denise Juneau talks about the Graduation Matters program at City College at Montana State University Billings on Wednesday. Her office was given $50,000 by the Montana-based Student Assistance Foundation to further help Graduation Matters.

A gift of $50,000 awarded to the Montana state Office of Public Instruction will lead to smaller competitive grants going to 10 Montana high schools to help more students graduate and get them pointed to post-high school education.

The $50,000 was a gift from the Student Assistance Foundation, a Montana nonprofit dedicated to helping students pursue post-secondary studies.

State superintendent of instruction Denise Juneau visited City College at Montana State University Billings on Wednesday to accept the award.

The grants, divided into $5,000 increments, will go to the 10 high schools that can best demonstrate they can do one of three things: get seniors to fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid; meet with families to talk about college-going attitudes and how to address the issues that raises; and create activities that improve graduation rates and college preparedness.

Officials with School District 2, which will likely apply for the grants, see the importance of improving graduation rates and getting students better situated to start college.

But they also recognize that in a district with 5,200 high school students — the most in the state — $5,000 won't go very far.

"We've got to have the investment of the people," said Kathy Olson, an administrator with SD2.

The district's effort will be to get the community involved in its efforts to improve its graduation rate. Already, SD2 has struck up a partnership with the Billings Chamber of Commerce in an effort to better use local business leaders.

SD2 Superintendent Terry Bouck echoed those sentiments as he addressed the crowd gathered to watch the presentation of the award.

"It's about a partnership with higher education and parents and with the community," he said.

Juneau was excited about the gift. Graduation Matters Montana, her office's big initiative to decrease the state's dropout rate, has helped spur graduation-improvement programs in 24 communities across the state, including Billings.

"I'm proud of the partnerships I see forming at local levels," she said. "Every student deserves a chance."

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.