Swearing in Ceremony

Superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen takes her oath of office Jan. 2 during a swearing-in ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.

Thom Bridge, Independent Record

Graduation Matters Montana's future is unclear, though it's been cut from the Office of Public Instruction's website.

Last week, Dylan Klapmeier, federal policy director and media assistant for Superintendent Elsie Arntzen, told the Ravalli Republic in an email that "with a new administration beginning, the Graduation Matters program is being phased out in a responsible manner."

In an interview a few days later, Arntzen said no decision had been made on the future of Graduation Matters.

On Wednesday night, Klapmeier said in an email that Arntzen's point still stands.

"Superintendent Arntzen said in an interview with the Ravalli Republic last Friday that the decision hasn’t been made on whether the program will continue in its current form and that she is reaching out to stakeholders to get a better understanding of how OPI can help facilitate success for all of Montana’s students and schools," Klapmeier said. "As is, the program was only serving a limited number of Montana schools with private dollars."

There are now 58 communities participating in Graduation Matters. Klapmeier said Arntzen is working with these communities and partners "to understand what has worked and what hasn't."

The initiative is rooted in Missoula and was picked up by former superintendent Denise Juneau in 2010. It was touted as one of the reasons Montana's dropout rate has fallen, and the graduation rate has inched higher every year since 2009 (the graduation rate dipped slightly last year). Juneau championed the program as one of the hallmarks of her administration.

Graduation Matters has attracted attention. On Wednesday, Education Northwest highlighted the initiative as a success story.

Since 2012, the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation has granted $900,000 to the initiative. In total, private foundations, businesses and donors have invested more than $1.3 million in the program. Those funds then run through OPI in the form of grants, up to $10,000 a year, to fund local GMM programs.

"OPI certainly paid for some staff time, but all money that flowed to districts through GMM was from the grants OPI received from the Washington Foundation and other supporters – all private dollars," Missoula County Public Schools superintendent Mark Thane said in an email.

Also on Wednesday, the Graduation Matters website, which was housed within the OPI website, had been taken down.

Klapmeier said that's because it contained "outdated information and links to pages that no longer exist since the change of administrations."

"The website has been temporarily put on hold until we have updates based on the above conversations," he said. "OPI is also revamping our agency website in general to have a more organized flow of communication.

"This closes the door on this topic and opens the door for new conversations about the positive things that Superintendent Arntzen is working on."

Following a GMM grant announcement at the end of Juneau's term last month, Corvallis High principal Jason Wirt deemed GMM successful.

“It is an awesome program and we’ve been able to do so much with this funding,” he told the Ravalli Republic. “Thank you to the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation for providing this. Hopefully the next administration will continue this funding and program.”

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Reporter for the Missoulian