Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau attended the high-energy all-school assembly in the Stevensville gym Wednesday in celebration of the school’s improved graduation numbers and Graduation Matters efforts.

Juneau praised the students, staff, board members and administrators in the packed gym.

“I am proud to celebrate the good work that is being done by Graduation Matters, Stevensville, by administrators, teachers, students and parents and community members,” Juneau said. “There are not many schools in the state that can boast a 90 percent graduation rate and you’ve had that for two years. Last year Stevensville won the raising aspirations award and a big part of that is the student voice that they participate with. I know your student council has strong leadership. What I see are student-led conversations about leadership and your futures.”

Stevensville High School principal Brian Gum said Stevensville has a strong reason to celebrate.

“In the last four years with Graduation Matters we’ve reduced our dropout rate from 5.7 percent to 0.8 percent,” Gum said. “I am super proud of not only our high school, but the middle school and elementary as well since they have made this into a K-12 project. The high school alone would not have achieved these numbers if we didn’t have the buy in from all of our students and community members.”

Gum said the cohort rate at the high school has improved from 80 percent to 92 percent.

Superintendent Bob Moore listed the benefits of staying in school.

“Ninety-nine percent of our students are staying in school,” Moore said. “We are an example of a school that can get things done and are one of the top five schools in the state of Montana. In the United States, we know that the yearly earnings of a high school graduate are $10,000 more than the yearly earnings of a high school dropout. For a reality check, that is 80 X-box premium consoles, or that is 10 laptop computers, or 1,560 Big Mac meal deals at McDonalds. It’s a big deal.”

Moore said that for students going on to complete a four-year degree they would earn and additional $32,000 more each year.

“Dream big and graduate,” Moore said.

School Board Chair Greg Trangmoe said the goal of Stevensville schools is to prepare students for “full and enriched lives.”

Trangmoe quoted article 10 of the Montana Constitution: “It is the goal of the people to develop the full educational potential of each person.”

“The opportunity to learn is given to each person in our state,” Trangmoe said. “This means that each one of you has the right to receive a quality education.”

Stevensville Primary School Principal Jessica Shourd said by the time students reach the third grade they understand the importance of education. She introduced third grade student Cody Bradford who stood on a riser to reach the microphone. He presented a two-minute speech to the full school body and dignitaries about the importance of education and graduation.

“If you pass your classes you will be able to graduate,” Bradford said. “Education is important it will help us throughout our lives to help others and ourselves.”

Primary and middle school students held signs and posters showing the year of their graduation. When called, each class stood and shouted the year they would graduate. The first group was the kindergarten class who will graduate in 2028. The high school students cheered for the primary and middle school students.

The high school presentation included the list of Yellow Jacket scholars. Graduation Matters student representatives Casey Cook and Elizabeth Brown listed the opportunities to be involved at Stevensville schools. As the clubs, teams and organizations were called, students stood until nearly every student on the east side of the gym was standing.

“Discover and choose your future,” Cook and Brown said.

Superintendent Juneau said there are 821 schools across Montana.

“It’s like I’m the principal of all of them,” Juneau said. “There are about 145,000 students, about 12,000 teachers and I’m here in Stevensville today to celebrate your great graduation rates with you. It’s been phenomenal.”

Juneau said congratulations to the class of 2016.

“The class of 2028 is looking at you so be good role models for them, and 2028 that’s you in a few years,” Juneau said. “Right now Graduation Matters is in 53 communities across the state. Stevensville is doing great. They have 25 business partnerships and people pulling together.”

Juneau said those partnerships speak to the strength of the school district, the community and the Stevensville Graduation Matters team.

“I am so proud to be the top advocate for public education in this state. We have historically high graduation rates across the state. This year we have an 86 percent graduation rate,” Juneau said. “When I travel around the state I see what great work is being done in our schools. I know that young people, when they walk across the stage at graduation, are smart, creative and ready to lead and I see Stevensville on that path as well.”

She had the students give the teachers a round of applause.

“Teachers, I thank you for your work, high standards and high expectations,” Juneau said. “I see from this district when you raise the bar and you talk about graduation students are going to meet it.”

Reach reporter Michelle McConnaha at 363-3300 or michelle.mcconnaha@ravallirepublic.com.