Graduation Matters on track here, in spite of state action

From the Publisher
By: 
David Keyes
Laurel Outlook publisher

We owe our children the best possible education. Nobody can argue that fact.
This is not a new discussion, but following the nomination of Betty DeVos, a non educator, as the Education Secretary and the election of outsider Elsie Arntzen as Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, some are wondering what is next for educating our children.
Editorial writers and pundits from Washington, DC, to Butte have been harsh on both women and some would argue that some of the fire Arntzen has received has been self inflicted.
The debate on education has raged on since before the birth of Christ when a wise man named Socrates persuaded Athenians that students might learn more by asking and answering questions rather than students being entertained, which had been the practice.
So what does all of this have to do with Graduation Matters?
Graduation Matters is/was a statewide initiative started in 2009 by then Supt. of OPI with the goal of raising the percentage of high school graduates in Montana.
The program has helped raise Montana’s graduation rates from 80 to 86 percent in six years. Every statistic shows that high school graduates fare better in the world than non graduates. Nobody argues this.
The fact that the program is funded with private money – no state funds – has to warm the heart of even the most fiscally minded person.
Laurel is one of the leaders in the increase in graduates and received statewide accolades last year for graduating nearly 90 percent of seniors after averaging in the low 80s previous to Graduation Matters.
By all measure, Graduation Matters has traction here. Look around:
• A student-designed Graduation Matters sign in on each school in Laurel.
• Graduating seniors march through the elementary school with caps and gowns on as an example to the young students.
• Teachers, administrators and the public custom fit Graduation Matters here in Laurel.
“Graduation Matters has helped turn the discussion from ‘are you planning to graduate to what are you planning to do after you graduate?” said Linda Filpula, Laurel’s Superintendent of Schools.
“Graduation Matters is the single best program I have ever seen to focus students on graduation but also looking beyond high school,” she said.
The reason Graduation Matters is the topic of this editorial is that OPI chief Arntzen had the program stripped from the state website the day after she took office.
She has spent the time since hemming and hawing about the program ever since.
Laurel’s Graduation Matters program will continue even without support of the state. The local budget is minimal – t-shirts, etc.
Ricci’s, located across from LHS, has a can where patrons can “round up” their change as a donation. Owner Vince Ricci, who also happens to be a state representative, is fully in favor of Graduation Matters.
Education methods come and go and the challenge to attract and keep good educators and administrators will always be a challenge. The bottom line is that we should encourage students to be lifelong learners and that high school graduation should be an important first step in that journey.
So why would the head of OPI want to target Graduation Matters as one of her first acts in office and then not have a good answer?
Thank goodness Laurel had its act together to keep Graduation Matters on track. I will save a space here for anytime Arntzen wants to explain this.

David Keyes is publisher of the Laurel Outlook

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