Montana’s Office of Public Instruction got a big boost to its “Graduation Matters” initiative thanks to a $450,000 grant from a private foundation.

The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation announced Wednesday that OPI will be given the grant over three years to support a statewide network of locally designed, community-driven efforts to increase the number of Montana students who graduate from high school and to reduce the dropout rate.

Support from the Washington Foundation will allow the OPI to start the Graduation Matters Montana Challenge Fund, assisting 10 to 15 new Graduation Matters communities each year.

As many as 45 new communities will be added over the duration of the grant. Each community will be awarded up to $10,000 to replicate successful dropout prevention strategies.

“Montanans continue to respond to the call to lower the dropout rate and improve Montana’s economic future,” said State Superintendent Denise Juneau in a press release. “The Washington Foundation’s investment in Montana’s students is going to pay off for years to come.”

Mike Halligan, executive director of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, said investing in community-based efforts focused on improving the achievement of all students is the single most important investment people can make.

“Developing Graduation Matters programs in school districts across the state sends a message to our children that we care about them and their future,” Halligan said. “This message is the core of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation’s mission, and we are proud to be able to support this critically important initiative.”

Juneau launched the Graduation Matters initiative in 2010 and aims to cut Montana’s dropout rate in half by 2014.

The initiative was inspired by Graduation Matters Missoula, an effort led by Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Alex Apostle. Since the launch of the district’s initiative, Missoula’s graduation rate has gone from 80 percent in 2009 to 87 percent in 2011, and the dropout rate has decreased from 5.1 percent in 2008 to 2.5 percent in 2010.

OPI said the hope is to get grant applications in from the school districts with Graduation Matters programs some time in February and to award grants by March.

Tom Moore, assistant superintendent of secondary schools in Great Falls, said he was excited to hear about the grant as the school district and other community partners are working to address graduation and dropout rates locally.

“Absolutely we’ll be going after that money,” he said.

The school district is working with United Way of Cascade County, Opportunities Inc., higher education institutions, businesses and students to come up with an action plan for Great Falls’ students.

“We want every kid to graduate with a diploma that matters to them,” Moore said. “It’s important to the health and vitality of our community.”

For more on grants and grant writing, visit Grant Pros.


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