After awarding five schools top honors for increasing graduation rates at a ceremony Tuesday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau released the 2013 Graduation and Dropout Report.

Last week Juneau’s office informed the Belgrade School District that it had earned the top Graduation Matters award for the 2013 year. The district was lauded for a combination of credit recovery, dual credit options, tutoring programs and alternative schools that have driven down dropout rates significantly in the past three years.

In numbers, Belgrade has steadily raised graduation rates by seven percent over the past three years. From 2011 to 2013, graduation climbed from 77.3 percent of student to 84.1 percent.

During the same years, dropout numbers in Belgrade decreased from 4.7 percent to 3.7 percent. Financial aid application rates climbed from 34 percent in 2012 to 40 percent in 2013. ACT scores in Belgrade remain above the state average.

“Belgrade set their sight sights on a culture of increased rigor and expectations and backed it up with a team driven effort,” OPI wrote in an award letter to Belgrade.

Belgrade Schools Superintendent Candy Lubansky traveled to Helena on Tuesday to receive the Shining Star Award. Lubansky was accompanied by high school principal Russ McDaniel, middle school principal Julie Mickolio, Belgrade School Board Trustee Renae Mattimoe and high school math teacher Denise Maczewski. Belgrade City Judge Michelle Snowberger presented the award.

According to the official report, from 2009 to 2013, Montana’s graduation rate has increased from 80.7 percent to 84.4 percent. In the same timeframe, the dropout rate has decreased from 5 percent to 3.6 percent.

In terms of student numbers, 772 fewer students across the state dropped out in 2013 than in 2009. The report also talks about the economic impact of increasing graduation rates.

According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, in coming years, Montana will see a $4.3 million annual boost to the state’s economy and an increase of $5.1 million in spending on homes and a $600,000 increase in automobile sales.

The additional high school graduates will earn an estimated $68.2 million over the course of their lifetime compared to high school dropouts.

After releasing the 2013 graduation statistics, Juneau “reinforced her commitment to introducing legislation to raise the legal dropout age to ‘age 18 or upon graduation’ and providing state funding for students who are older than 18 years old,” a press release state.  

Thirty-four communities around the state participate in the Graduation Matters initiative. In Belgrade, teachers have hosted Graduation Matters assemblies to encourage students to stay in school.

At the assemblies, students sign their names on massive posters, signifying their promise to graduate. Students also hear from high school dropouts who talk about the hardships of finding a job without a diploma. Teachers and student leaders also tell teens about the various clubs and sports they can get involved with to help them find their place in high school.

Those assemblies coupled with various other district efforts to keep kids in school earned Belgrade the top Shining Star Award.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction recognized Belgrade for helping students complete college financial aid forms, partnering with a digital academy to help student recover missed credits and offering better mental health services for students.

Anaconda, Great Falls, Missoula and Rocky Boy were the four other communities that received Graduation Matters awards at Tuesday’s ceremony.