Subscribe for 17¢ / day

The Missoula County Public Schools board extended Superintendent Alex Apostle's contract for another year Tuesday evening, lauding him for his "energy, direction, force and enthusiasm" in instituting changes in the district.

One after the other, the MCPS trustees praised Apostle's leadership and the various initiatives the district has pursued over the last three years. Apostle, meanwhile, praised the teachers, support staff and administrators he said have made all the changes possible.

"This community gave me a great opportunity to serve, and I appreciate it," said the superintendent, who was hired three years ago to institute dramatic changes in how education is done for the district's 8,500 students.

The extension of Apostle's contract follows his annual job evaluation, done in closed session last month by the board.

Since he was hired, Apostle has vigorously pursued the district's goals of "student achievement for all," the Graduation Matters initiative and the "21st century schools" concept of modern education.

The initiatives have included pursuit of the International Baccalaureate Program at Hellgate High School (debuting next year), the Health Sciences Academy at Big Sky (also debuting next year), along with greater ties to the University of Montana and the Montana university system in general.

Apostle's efforts have also led to an unprecedented $600,000 in private funds raised for public education, the trustees noted.

Dropout rates in the district have been cut in half over the last three years, and the most recent statistics indicate the district is on a course to continue the trend, said Mark Thane, one of three MCPS regional administrators.

Last year at this time, 36 students had officially dropped out of high school in the district. As of December 2011, that number is 42.

That result, said Thane, is the result of "on-time graduation committees" at each of the high schools and the ongoing efforts to intervene with students who have dropped out or are at risk of doing so.

The trustees credited Apostle for his leadership at a time when education has needed it most.

"He is a dedicated leader and devoted to our district," said trustee Jim Sadler, who has been on the board for almost two decades. "Many people can do the job you hire them for, but Dr. Apostle has done this with great heart and actual feeling."

By law, public school superintendents operate under contracts no longer than three years. But school boards have the option of extending those three-year contracts on a yearly basis. Apostle's contract has been unanimously extended for the past three years, which included an extension two years ago supplemented with a controversial and divisive 10-percent raise.

He has not received a pay raise since.

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at (406) 523-5254 or at