Success Story: Good Governance in Montana

By Del Stover

When officials in Missoula, Mont., realized that nearly one in five students failed to graduate from high school on time, they didn’t simply attribute the problem to the ills of poverty, lazy students, or a troubled home life.

Instead of assigning blame, they tackled the problem by creating Graduation Matters Missoula, a communitywide initiative that seeks to ensure that 100 percent of students graduate from the Missoula County Public Schools.

“We developed five very specific goals, which included, No. 1, that all students would achieve academically and all students would graduate from high school regardless of their circumstances and abilities,” says Superintendent Alex Apostle.

This emphasis on graduation began in 2008, when the school board hired Apostle as superintendent of the 8,600-student district. “I wanted to evaluate all our assessments and data,” he says. “That included reviewing the graduation rate and dropout rate. It was pretty significant that we were losing lots of kids. We lost almost 300 students between 2005 and 2007.”

Educators, especially those in larger urban districts, might view that number with envy. But school officials admit they were disquieted by their data. As a small city of 67,000, Missoula doesn’t have the daunting challenges of larger urban centers, and as a regional economic center and home to the University of Montana, the community took pride in the educational attainment of its citizenry.

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