Mike Halligan has to love his job.

Although he previously served as a state legislator and thus wasn't universally loved, everybody likes to see him these days.

Why? He's always giving away money as executive director of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation.

Count Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Alex Apostle as Halligan's biggest fan on Tuesday night.

"I'm plenty happy to see a $50,000 check, that's for sure," said Apostle. "That's a lot of money."

The foundation gave the money to the school district to support development of an international baccalaureate program, which will be housed at Hellgate High School.

The Washingtons have long had a soft spot for education, particularly the University of Montana. In fact, Halligan said Missoula's school system is a top selling point when trying to lure people to Missoula.

"It's something that's a very natural thing for us to support," he said.

The International Baccalaureate program, which was founded in Switzerland in 1971, is a rigorous educational experience that focuses on developing "inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect."

At the high school level, the program usually runs for two years.

"Students must choose one subject from each of groups 1 to 5, thus ensuring breadth of experience in languages, social studies, the experimental sciences and mathematics," the International Baccalaureate organization's website states.

Apostle said integrating the program into the Missoula school system is part of his 21st century learning initiative.

"There's only one other public school that has this in the state, and here in Missoula we should be leading the charge," Apostle said.

That program is taught in Kalispell, although the private Missoula International School is also listed on the IBO website, ibo.org.

Apostle said he thinks the program is about two years away from being implemented.

"It will be housed at Hellgate, but any high school student in the county will be able to take part in it," he said.

Apostle said part of the Washington money may also go to support Graduation Matters Missoula, a recent initiative designed to keep children in school.

The initiative was launched to improve Missoula's dropout rate, which mirrors the national average of about 25 percent of students who start school but fail to graduate.

The program looks to forge ties between the schools, community and businesses to create a more supportive atmosphere for students.

Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 523-5252 or at mmoore@missoulian.com.

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