It wasn't long after Graduation Matters was launched that it had to change its name.

The Missoula County Public Schools initiative was quickly co-opted by the state Office of Public Instruction as Graduation Matters Montana, so convinced was state school Superintendent Denise Juneau of its promise.

Renamed as Graduation Matters Missoula, the program - an initiative spearheaded by MCPS Superintendent Alex Apostle - will celebrate its one-year anniversary Wednesday with a community confab at the Missoula Children's Theatre Center for the Performing Arts.

Scheduled to speak from 10 to 11 a.m. are Apostle, Juneau and Roberta Evans, dean of the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Montana. The public is invited.

Graduation Matters Missoula's goal, stated repeatedly by Apostle almost every time he appears in a public forum, is simple: Achieve a 100 percent graduation rate, no excuses allowed.

Some critics have called it a pie-in-the-sky program, but Apostle has always claimed that is its strength: There's no sense in aiming for 99 percent.

MCPS has been quick to seize on a remarkable statistic and attribute it to Graduation Matters Missoula: The dropout rate in one year - 2009 to 2010 - was cut nearly in half.

And so far this year, the dropout number from last year is down 10 percent more.

The program enlists businesses, counselors and the community as a whole to identify dropouts or potential dropouts, while also ratcheting up the district's tracking of students who have left school for any number of reasons.

The state's version of the program is mostly just a public relations campaign right now. The chief strategy currently in raising the graduation rate is typed up on paper in the form of Senate Bill 44, which would make education compulsory until age 18 (currently, students can legally drop out at 16).

The committee looking at that bill will likely decide if it goes forward on Monday during a legislative hearing.

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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