By Molly Priddy, 9-30-11
||Caption: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau chats with students in Lorrie Gomez's fourth-grade class at Lakeside Elementary School. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau toured the Flathead this week to visit schools and promote state programs aimed at improving graduation rates and school standards.
In an interview with the Beacon
, Juneau touted the program Graduation Matters Montana as a way to decrease dropout rates among high school students throughout the state. The program seeks to connect students with local businesses and community members to highlight how important a diploma can be.
According to the state Office of Public Instruction, roughly 2,000 kids drop out of high school each year in Montana, which Juneau noted is larger than the population of some of the state’s small towns.
One of the benefits of the program is that it can be tailored to fit each individual community, Juneau said. School District 5 incorporated the Graduation Matters Montana initiative in Kalispell this year, along with high schools in Missoula, Helena, Great Falls, Billings, Butte and the Gallatin Valley.
In Kalispell, that means both high schools employing “graduation coordinators” to maintain meaningful relationships with the students in danger of dropping out and to conduct exit interviews with students who choose to leave and to ensure the student knows all their options before dropping out.
The local program is headed in the right direction, Juneau said, because Kalispell schools “have had longstanding relationships with their businesses,” giving students a chance to know what a hirable applicant would ideally look like.
Juneau also discussed Montana’s move to join 46 other states in adopting Common Core State Standards, which provides uniform standards of what students should know and be able to accomplish at each grade level.
The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association sponsored a state-led initiative to develop these standards, Juneau noted, which makes it a national program and not a federal one.
Common standards will give students a clearer picture of what is expected of them as they progress through school, Juneau said.
The new standards are currently in the planning and awareness stage and will be fully implemented in 2014-2015.
Juneau also acknowledged a recent letter to the editor from the Montana School Boards Association and the Montana Rural Education Association decrying the way state land revenues are used to finance public education.
The letter said the state is involved in a “shell game” with the money because lawmakers put state land revenues toward education but then remove the same amount already earmarked for schools and put it back in the general fund.
In a subsequent letter to the editor, state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director Mary Sexton wrote that K-12 schools receive about 90 percent of state land revenues and noted that school funding is determined by the Legislature.
Juneau said the money that comes in from public lands goes to education, but it does not necessarily mean an increase in overall funding. She said she is glad the conversation is happening because the public can get a better picture about the school funding process.
The superintendent also visited area schools and honored Ruder Elementary School librarian Sarah Childers for achieving National Board Certification. Childers is one of seven Montana teachers to earn the certification this year.
Juneau is up for re-election in 2012.
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