Wednesday, February 23, 2005

High School Attendance Policy

When I heard that the High School Attendance Policy was being reviewed, I was excited. Then I read the article in the paper outlining possible changes. My excitement changed to extreme concern.

I attended the board meeting where it was determined improving the graduation rate was the board’s top priority. Adopting the changes to the attendance policy proposed in the published article will have a negative impact on the graduation rate. It should also be noted, improving the attendance rate was not one of the seven goals adopted by the board.

I’ve analyzed the published data on enrollment, attendance and graduation rates. I have found for the six graduating classes with complete enrollment data, five of six years experienced below state average graduation rates and four of six years have above average attendance rates.

It seems that South Dearborn High School has traded a slightly better attendance rate for lower graduation rates.

The 2003-2004 School Corporation Annual Performance Report for South Dearborn indicates that there are 300 students with 10 or more unexcused absences. That is nearly ten percent of SD’s enrollment. It should be noted that close to half of those students were at South Dearborn Middle School. South Dearborn High School only had 28 students with excessive absences. The root of South Dearborn’s below average attendance rate does not rest at South Dearborn High School.

South Dearborn High School’s attendance rate is at or above average. The Middle School attendance rate is consistently below average. Children avoid spending time where they are not comfortable. Perhaps the atmosphere at South Dearborn Middle School needs to be more nurturing.

Certainly, teachers should not be asked to go the extra mile to ensure a student who skips school has an opportunity to make up work. But the corporation must be extremely careful when it comes to determining the merit of a student’s absence.

Establishing a habit of good attendance is important, but not more important than helping children complete graduation requirements.

If South Dearborn seriously wishes to improve attendance, the following changes should be implemented.

1. The attendance policy should be consistent in every building of the corporation.

2. Students and parents, as well as teachers should provide significant input into these policies. (A parent who is an employee or contractor of the school does not qualify as a parent for this purpose.)

3. Credit given for a class must depend on mastery of the material and completion of the work, not attendance.

4. Parents should be encouraged to contact the school the first hour of the school day a child is absent. If the parent does not contact the school, the school MUST contact the parent at home or at work. This contact must come from a real person, not a computerized recording. Sometimes parents don’t know their child is not at school.

5. The school calendar must be family friendly. Families need time other than the summer to vacation. And everyone needs a regular break from the school routine.

A. Start school by the beginning of the second week of official fall athletic practice.

B. End the first semester before Winter Break.

C. Make every Federal Holiday a school holiday. (Students and parents need to share days off.)

D. Allow a full two weeks for Winter Break, regardless of the day of the week Christmas and New Years fall.

E. Dismiss school the day before Thanksgiving and the day after Easter so families can have a day to travel. School should also be dismissed on Good Friday.

F. Move spring break to the tenth week after winter break. This reduces interference with spring sports and increases the likelihood that High School Spring Athletes, Coaches and their families take a vacation during that week.

G. Build four or five emergency closing days into the school schedule. Families need to know for certain the last day of school so they can plan their summers accordingly.

H. Eliminate Fall break.

6. The school has a responsibility to promote good physical health. Many changes are necessary in the school to improve the health of our children and the attendance rate.

A. Children need adequate sleep.

1. The school day should begin at least an hour later. Some students currently catch the bus before 7:00 am.

2. Midweek evening school activities should be reduced. It is time to concentrate on improving the quality and reducing the quantity of these activities. (Sometimes there are three school night basketball games scheduled for Middle School children.) These midweek activities should be reduced to no more than one per week. Additionally, activities that result in children returning to school after 9:00 pm should be eliminated or scheduled for Friday or Saturday.

B. Children need a healthy diet. The nutritional quality of school meals must be improved. Soft Drinks and Junk Food should not be sold in the school before, during, or after school. These items can be sold in concessions for spectators at athletic and other school events.

C. Children need adequate exercise. The emphasis of Physical Education in the school should be helping children consistently get the exercise they need. This can’t happen with extremely large PE classes. It doesn’t happen with PE once per week for elementary children. It doesn’t happen when middle school children have PE for one trimester. It doesn’t happen when high school children take PE in Summer School so they can take more academic courses during the school year. And it doesn’t happen when high school children have just two trimesters of PE.

Recess is a very important opportunity for children to get the exercise they need. Twelve minutes a day is not enough. Taking recess away from a child for behavior problems takes away their opportunity for appropriate exercise. More appropriate methods of discipline must be found.

D. Children need adequate instruction in Health Education. This responsibility does not belong to the general elementary teacher. It belongs to a health teacher. Health should not be a one-trimester course. It should be taught once or twice per week yearlong.

7. When a child is absent from school for illness more than two days in a week, a note from a physician or consultation with the school nurse should be required.

I seriously hope a new attendance policy of a more punitive nature towards students will not be adopted at South Dearborn High School.

Karen Loveland

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