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The proportion of Butte High School students who graduated increased last year -- but the number dropping out also went up slightly.

The good news: the graduation rate for Butte High is 85 percent for the class of 2014, up from 82 percent the previous year.

The statewide graduation rate increased for the fourth consecutive year to 85.4 percent, a percentage point higher than 2013 and the highest level since the Montana Office of Public Instruction began calculating it in 2000, the department announced Tuesday.

From 2009 to 2014, Montana’s graduation rate has increased to 85.4 percent from 80.7 percent.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau credits the improvement with an initiative called Graduation Matters Montana, which was been funded through $450,000 in grant money as well private donations.

Juneau added that not all the news is good – the statewide dropout rate needs attention, and she is again introducing legislation this session to raise the legal dropout rate to age 18 or upon graduation.

At Butte High, the dropout rate increased to 4 percent from 3.6 percent. However, over a four-year span, the dropout rate has actually decreased from 6.6 percent in 2010-11, statistics show.

Judy Jonart, Butte school district superintendent, is pleased with the improved graduation rate.

It has taken “a whole school effort,” she said, to guide students to graduation.

“There are a variety of programs we have implemented, thanks to the teachers: dual-credit offerings, attendance officer, a graduation coach -- all the other programs we have in place – and the support programs, extracurricular and co-curricular activities.”

Examples of district programs that help keep students in school: after-school clubs, such as German Exchange, Montana History, art; plus supplemental career and technical education courses that guide students toward welding, carpentry, family and consumer sciences and anatomy and physiology.

Examples of support from outside the district but within the community: counselors who work with school counselors on suicide prevention, juvenile probation officer who works with the attendance officer and BHS graduation coach.

“All those programs provide support that kids need,” said Jonart.

Graduation rates calculated by the OPI are based on students in the same expected graduating class, adjusted for those who transfer in and out of a particular school.

“The more we can offer kids, the more we can get them involved,” Jonart said. “It’s a whole effort on behalf of Butte staff to get students to graduate with college or career-ready skills.”

Jonart is particularly happy with one category: the graduation completion rate over the long term. She stresses that Butte High has had a steady increase of completion rates over the past four years.

Since 2010-2011, Butte High’s completion rate has constantly increased, to 87.1 percent last year, from 75.8 percent in 2010-11.

Completion rate includes students who may have to attend summer school after their class graduates in May to pick up, for example, one-half credit in English.

Jonart said she is grateful for the work teachers in the district do day in and day out.

“We get busy doing and we forget to tell people,” said Jonart. “I applaud the work the whole staff has done to make this happen. I’m proud of the students.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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