Graduation rates improved last year in Montana, and Bozeman High had one of the best records among the state’s largest schools.

Denise Juneau, state superintendent of public instruction, released a report Wednesday on Montana’s 2012 graduation and dropout rates that showed that both are getting better.

The statewide graduation rate increased from the previous year by 1.7 percent to 83.9 percent. That continues an upward trend from 80.7 percent in 2009.

The state dropout count decreased from 1,975 to 1,841 students, or a rate of 4.1 percent, a full percentage point lower than four years ago.

For Bozeman High School, the four-year graduation rate climbed to 89.6 percent in 2012. That was a jump from 84 percent in 2011. The school’s dropout rate fell from 4.2 to 2.7 percent.

Bozeman High graduated the second largest number of students in the state over four years, 1,189, second only to Billings West at 1,225.

Bozeman’s graduation rate was higher than in five of Montana’s other large AA school districts, Great Falls, Helena, Billings, Butte and Kalispell. Only Missoula’s three AA high schools fared better, with graduation rates averaging 92.5 percent.

“It’s great,” Rob Watson, Bozeman schools superintendent and former Bozeman High principal, said of the higher graduation rate. “We want our students to succeed. Graduating from high school is a big milestone, a stepping stone.”

Watson said the school’s A2X program, or Alternative to Expulsion, has helped raise the graduation rate. It allows students who have been expelled, for drugs or other offenses, to attend school in a separate classroom, instead of sitting at home doing nothing, so they can keep up with classes. A2X also helps students recover credits for classes they flunked, improving chances of graduating.

The freshman transition program, he said, also identifies early those incoming students who might be at risk of dropping out so they can be helped.

Locally, Bozeman’s graduation rate was higher than Belgrade’s (84.4 percent) and Park High’s in Livingston (79.3 percent). However, all of the smaller high schools in this area had higher rates, ranging from 92 to 100 percent.

After the 2011 Legislature rejected a bill to raise from 16 to 18 the age when students can legally leave school, Juneau launched the Graduation Matters campaign, modeled on a program in Missoula, to get entire communities to promote the idea that it’s crucial for students to graduate from high school.

“Every student we are able to keep from dropping out of school or who is inspired to continue their education after high school benefits not only that individual, but the entire state,” Juneau said in a news release.

She announced Wednesday that $150,000 is available in grants from the Graduation Matters Challenge Fund to support Graduation Matters initiatives. The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation gave $450,000 last year to support Graduation Matters.

Among AA high schools, the graduation rates were: Great Falls 79.4 and CM Russell 88.3 percent; Butte 83.8 percent; Helena High 87.5 and Capital 88.2 percent; Flathead 85.8 and Glacier 87.3 percent; in Billings, Skyview 87.5, Senior 82.7 and West 87.1 percent; and in Missoula, Hellgate 91.8, Sentinel 94.4 and Big Sky 91.5 percent.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

Local high school graduation rates

Here are the 2012 graduation rates for local high schools, showing the number of students who graduated over four years and the graduation rate:

High School Graduates of Total Students Grad. Rate
Bozeman (1,189 of 1,327) 89.6%
Belgrade (444 of 526) 84.4%
Manhattan (108 of 114) 94.7%
Three Forks (155 of 166) 93.4%
West Yellowstone (36 of 39) 92.3%
Willow Creek (17 of 17) 100%
Park High (329 of 415) 79.3%
Gardiner (48 of 50) 96%
Ennis High (75 of 77) 97.4%
Harrison (30 of 30) 100%
Twin Bridges (89 of 89) 100%

Locations