Background on school efforts related to improving attendance.

Good morning, Parents.

Over the last couple of months, I have focused this blog on several occasions on the topic of attendance. It is a very important topic in terms of student success and learning, and I have tried to create a context for parents to establish expectations for their children. I am trying to encourage parents to push the issue and keep their students from missing school more than a few times per year when they are truly sick.

On a couple of occasions, I have received rather insightful and thoughtful replies and suggestions. These replies have helped us improve our efforts in some cases, or just pointed to areas that should be communicated more completely with parents.

In the most recent reply, a parent said (paraphrased), I fully agree with the awareness emails, but also see the concerned parents are the only ones reading your emails. Are you addressing the poor attendance issues with the offending students and parents directly? I really think that is an excellent point, and I am happy to report that the answer is yes, and this has been the case since the beginning of the year. Specifically, our practice has been for years that any time a student is absent and we have not been notified via a call or voicemail from the parent in the morning, Terri Hengst calls the family to check on the situation. Terri calls parents every time a student is absent and we were not notified by parents. Additionally, this year Bryce DeRoos began leading us in a process to be more proactive beyond Terri’s calls to address problematic attendance situations. Terri, Bryce (school psychologist/at-risk coordinator) and Josh Cole (guidance counselor) meet once a week as our Attendance Committee to review the whole school cumulative attendance records week by week, and they focus on the students with the highest incidence of absences. Around 3 absences, Josh gets involved and talks directly with the student and calls the parents to try to understand any issues that may be causing the problem so they can be resolved. At around 5 absences, Bryce gets involved and talks with students and parents a bit more firmly and begins talking about the impact on their learning and performance. If the situation does not begin to correct itself following Bryce’s contact, they communicate with me to begin the truancy process of communicating in more of a disciplinary manner with students and parents about a County Truancy Citation. We send two letters to the family, and then we request the student be cited for truancy by the Sheriff’s Department. We follow that format because that is what the statute/ordinance requires. As a committee, we also track our actions on a shared Google document where we all add our actions in response to each problematic situation. This allows us to have an ongoing record of our efforts. If parents are curious about just how many absences their child has accumulated, Terri Hengst would be happy to provide you that information if you give her a call at 564-2346 x 1002.

Another thing that was mentioned in a parent reply was the reality that both parents and teachers communicate expectations for attendance in rather significant ways with their own modeling or example. While parents will have a very difficult time setting expectations for attendance of their children that are not reinforced with their own actions, likewise, our school’s expectations would similarly be undermined if our staff does not model high quality attendance. Again, I think this is a great point. And again, I am extremely pleased to share that I think this is an area where we can be confident with the standard our staff models. We believe that if we hold students to a standard, we should hold ourselves to the same standard or higher. Our staff’s absentee rate models a higher standard than we expect of students. I hope that makes us credible with students and parents on this issue.

And finally, a couple of months ago, we had a parent point out that while we were asking parents to insist that their children “deal with it” and come to school when they weren’t really too sick, yet we were rather quick to allow students to come home from school or call their parents when they may have been less than really sick. We agreed that this was true, so we changed our practice in the HS office. We now work to assess how sick they are more accurately, and if they appear well enough to stay, we let them sit in the office for 10-15 minutes and then we ask them to go back to class. If they are not ready to go back to class, we often have them talk to the guidance counselor or just stay in the office a bit longer. We are trying to keep them in school when we think they are not too sick to be here, just as we are asking parents to do in the morning.

I hope you find this information helpful and reassuring. We really are working to do our part to partner with parents to address this important issue.

Have a great week,
Scott