Improvements in school numbers show that Graduation Matters
By Lailani Upham
Superintendent Denise Juneau shares her umbrella with elder and life-long teacher Darry Dupuis while Gov. Bullock and Education Policy Advisor Shannon O’Brien are left smiling in the rain. (Lailani Upham photo)
POLSON — Governor Steve Bullock and Superintendent Denise Juneau joined nearly 1,000 Polson school students, staff and board of trustees in the rain to kick off Graduation Matters last Thursday.
The Polson and St. Ignatius Public Schools are two of the schools that recently received a Graduation Matters Challenge Fund grant for $5,000 from the Office of Public Instruction to increase their graduation rates and ensure students are college ready.
OPI was awarded a total of $450,000 over three years from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation to support community-based Graduation Matters initiatives and State Farm Insurance granted OPI $15,000 to add to the GMM Challenge fund this year.
“We all have a responsibility to ensure students have all the tools they need to be successful. I’m thrilled to join parents, teachers, administrators and community members to show our support for these young men and women,” stated Bullock of the event.
“We make Montana proud when every kid has the opportunity to fulfill their potential,” Bullock added.
Polson High School cheerleaders pump up the crowd with some sharp, jubilant cheers on Graduation Matters. (Lailani Upham photo)
Twenty-five Montana schools districts with 10 in Western Montana are picking up the grant money to help with Graduations Matters.
“These grants have helped jumpstart Graduation Matters initiatives across the state and are now supporting successful strategies that were implemented during the first year of the grant program. The statewide graduation rate is moving in the right direction due to the hard work happening at the local level across Montana,” Superintendent Denise Juneau stated in a news release.
The Polson School Board recently adopted Graduation Matters as one of its top three main concerns for the entire K-12 district.
Polson Superintendent Dr. Linda Reksten stated, “The Polson Trustees and I are committed and have made it a three to five year goal that all students will graduate career and college ready in order to achieve their highest goal.”
Guest speaker, Darry Dupuis, a retired teacher and 1953 Polson High School graduate still dons the purple spirit. He told the students, quitting school was never an option for him. He urged the student body it should not be for them either. (Lailani Upham photo)
Graduation Matters Polson has set their goal of reducing the dropout rate by 10 percent and decreasing the number of students who are credit-deficient by 15 percent.
The $5,000 grant was awarded last spring and has given the school time to plan and prepare, according to PHS Principal Rex Weltz.
“We started a Link program to help and support ninth graders in their transition into high school,” Weltz stated. The first step in getting students to graduate is retaining them and by fostering a safe learning environment, said Weltz.
A portion of the grant will be used to train three staff members to become Link leaders who will work with student at risk of dropping out.
The Link program not only helps with academic but with behavioral as well, explained Weltz.
With over a dozen junior and seniors stepping up to the plate to lead, guide, and mentor younger students, it had reduced much of the anxiety a freshman feels on the first day of school, Weltz said.
Students and staff are tuned into the speakers regardless of the rain. (Lailani Upham photo)
“They had ownership on day one.”
Students were asked last school year to consider becoming a Link leader. “It is not a popularity contest; we want a wide variety of student to go through the process of becoming leaders,” said Weltz.
According to St. Ignatius High School Principal Jason Sargent they are in their second year of receiving the grant funding. Last year the school district received $10,000 and this year $5,000.
“We have used the money to support the Graduation Matters and MBI efforts in our school that go hand in hand. Last year we were the first reservation school in Montana to reach the 80/80 goal. Eighty percent of our students and 80 percent of our staff knew the universal expectations of our school,” Sargent stated.
Gov. Steve Bullock urges students to keep on with education. “I encourage you to work hard and stick to it. I know school isn’t always easy, but when times get tough, remember there are so many people pulling for you to make Montana proud. I’m pulling for you. What you do makes a difference, make a pledge to graduate, working together we will get through those rainy days.” (Lailani Upham photo)
Sargent said the St. Ignatius school district was at a combined rate of 94 percent. “We received the Bronze award for our MBI (Montana B Behavioral Initiative) school-wide efforts last year and are shooting for Gold this year. The funds we receive from Graduation Matters are mainly used for incentives, stipends and community partnerships.”
Partnerships and initiatives include: Bulldog tickets, “Top Dawg quarterly awards,” a stipend for MBI and Graduation Matters facilitator, downtown community partnership certificates, MBI/Graduation Matters t-shirts for student groups, and supplies.
St. Ignatius has been invited to join Juneau in November for the High School Forum to share on their efforts with Graduation Matters, MBI and Response to Intervention, Sargent added.
“Our school is one of the very few in Montana that is successfully involved in all three state initiatives.”
Polson High School “Link Program” leaders make a shout out for the Graduation Matters imitative with OPI Superintendent Juneau and Gov. Bullock. Link is in its first year and is created to help transition freshman students into high school through a mentoring program of juniors and seniors. (Lailani Upham photo)
In 2010, Juneau launched the statewide initiative, Graduation Matters Montana. Currently, there are 33 Graduation Matters communities; this means 70 percent of Montana students attend a school with a Graduation Matters initiative. Since Juneau took office in 2009, the dropout rate has declined from 5.1 percent to 4.1 percent, and the graduation rate has increased from 80.7 percent to 83.9 percent.
Below is a list of the schools that have been awarded the grants for 2013.
Box Elder, $5,000
Columbia Falls, $8,295
Great Falls, $10,000
Miles City, $10,000
St. Ignatius, $5,000
Thompson Falls, $5,000
Correction: In the printed edition of CKN, Darry Dupuis was mistakenly identified as 'Gary Dupuis.' Also, Darry graduated in 1953, not 1958. This on-line article has been re-edited with the correction.