Graduation Matters Missoula celebrated its second anniversary at Southgate Mall on Wednesday afternoon with $20,000 in new money and a crowd of education enthusiasts applauding its success.

“What we do here in Missoula really champions the cause of public education,” said Missoula County Public Schools superintendent Alex Apostle, standing on a stage erected for the occasion near the J.C. Penney store. “If anybody can make (100 percent graduation) happen, it’s this community.”

Since its official inception in 2010, Graduation Matters Missoula has encouraged MCPS children and teachers, along with the community and parents, to aggressively pursue the goal of a 100 percent graduation rate.

The effort has spread statewide, with the state Office of Public Instruction taking up the program as Graduation Matters Montana. Today, nearly two-thirds of all Montana high-school students attend schools that have their own Graduation Matters initiative.

The local Graduation Matters program was infused with $10,000 checks from each of Missoula hospitals – Community Medical Center and St. Patrick Hospital – at the 4 p.m. celebration.

“We consider a contribution to MCPS to be a contribution to Missoula and the children of Missoula County,” said Community’s Mary Windecker.

Through better student tracking, credit recovery programs and other efforts to stop high-school children from dropping out, MCPS says that it has dramatically reduced dropout numbers and increased its graduation rate.

In 2009, the graduation rate within MCPS – the percentage of freshmen who graduated on time within four years – was 81 percent. Last year, that percentage had increased to 87 percent. Last year, 97 students dropped out of MCPS. So far this year, just 63 have.

And that accounting of students is what Montana schools need to do across the state, said deputy OPI superintendent Dennis Parman, who was also on hand Wednesday.

“They’re counting students here one at a time,” he said. “And that’s how we have to do it.”

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at

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