Belgrade High School

Belgrade High School students fill the hallway Thursday. The high school earned the Shining Star Award for the best graduation efforts by the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction announced this week that Belgrade High School earned the highest state accolade for decreasing dropout rates.

On Tuesday, Belgrade will be honored with the Shining Star Award in a ceremony held in Helena. State Superintendent Denise Juneau will release the 2013 Graduation and Dropout Report at the annual Graduation Matters celebration.

“Through the work of local Graduation Matters communities, hundreds of students' lives have been changed for the better,” Juneau said in a news release. “…Montana will be forever impacted as a result of local communities and schools working to make graduation matter.”

A number of factors played into Belgrade's success. The Shining Star Award is given to the school that uses a host of programs to increase graduation rates while simultaneously decreasing dropout numbers.

For example, Free Application for Federal Student Aid completion rates at Belgrade High School rose from 34 percent in 2012 to 40 percent in 2013. The FAFSA application is the first step for students to earn college grants and loans. ACT scores in Belgrade are also above state averages.

Belgrade High administrators have also increased the number of Advanced Placement and dual-credit courses offered to students. Additionally, there are more literacy and math teachers on site to help students at the high school.

OPI Communications Director Allyson Hagen lauded Belgrade for creating alternative schools at both the high school and the middle school. She said Belgrade educators are working hard to create social and emotional support for students across the district.

“Belgrade got noticed for an all-around great effort,” Hagen said. “When we looked at all the different stuff Belgrade was doing, we thought their efforts were impressive.”

Belgrade Schools Superintendent Candy Lubansky said the award is a nice accolade for the district in light of everyone's hard work.

“I want the community to know this was a priority for the school district,” Lubansky said. “We worked really hard on it. We're celebrating improved graduation rates.”

In addition to OPI's list of Belgrade's efforts, Lubanksy outlined a few more projects aimed at getting kids to graduate. The Montana Digital Academy is a new way for students to recover credits if they are falling behind.

“The academy is for students who didn't pass a core class,” Belgrade High School Principal Russ McDaniel said. “We're opening up the Montana Digital Academy with a very distinguished teacher who was hired to work with students strictly on credit recovery.”

Lubansky has a dream to open a career center in the high school. Students would be exposed to careers they may never have considered. The center would offer students the opportunity to “explore their interests and abilities or discover their interests and abilities,” Lubansky said.

High school students would also be able to secure internships, mentors and job-shadowing assignments to help them try a career before they graduate.

Lubanksy, along with folks from Gallatin College, Career Transitions, Job Services and the Bozeman School District, applied for a large grant through the U.S. Department of Labor. They will find out in April if they earned the $4 million grant.

Belgrade would use its portion of the grant for the high school career center and other job-readiness ventures for students.

McDaniel said all of the Graduation Matters initiatives reflect the efforts of his staff and students.

“Teachers are always working hard,” McDaniel said. “They are trying to make connections with kids.”

While it is nice to be recognized, McDaniel said it's just part of the job.

“It's awesome improvement, but let's keep going,” he said.

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