Assistant Principal’s Corner #5

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Why School Attendance is Important? The Big Picture!

After writing on a highly debatable topic like homework, I said to myself, what other sticky topic could I stir the pot with? Ah! Attendance popped into my head. As an assistant principal, we spend much of our time trying to track, chase down, and improve student attendance. This can be daunting and sometimes it feels like a Sisyphean task.   http://www.mythweb.com/encyc/entries/sisyphus.html

So why worry so much if students are not punctual or miss several days of school? Can’t they still get a passing grade and that highly coveted high school diploma? After all, isn’t it just the grade and that piece of paper with the school seal that society says is the most important thing to the students? What is the correlation between having good attendance and academic success? Does being punctual demonstrate respect for others and a sense of commitment and responsibility?

So what does some of the data say? It is evident that students missing ten percent of school in any given school year (chronic absenteeism) reduces even the best teachers ability to provide quality instruction, and those students will be much more likely to either stay back in school or even drop out. One of the greatest factors in improving the quality of life for low-income or at risk students is their education, but having poor attendance greatly decreases their chances for success. Students from all socio-economic groups generally score lower on standardized tests when they missed too much school and are less prepared for college and careers. Many businesses complain that high school and college graduates are chronically late to work and are missing a strong work ethic. http://drjameswellborn.com/preparing-teens-for-the-21st-century-work-place-work-ethic/

Many school systems have vertically aligned attendance policies within their district but don’t uniformly follow the established policies. This is often due to parental push-back, a lack of support by administration, and often changing state guidelines. Raising children is not an easy task at any age, and so many more parents are working  to pay their bills, save for college, and their retirement. This can be challenging in a very difficult economy but they still need to have consistent expectations to ensure their child’s academic success. When schools call home and inquire why a student went on vacation in October versus the summer time, it can cause tension between the parents and the school. Parents may have only been able to schedule it then, or the prices were cheaper. We all know hotels and airlines  jack up the costs during school vacation time. School Administrators do understand this, but we have to hold the students accountable for their education. This is where dialogue between the two parties is critical.

Students also do become physically and mentally ill, and schools are required to call home and check on those types of absences as well. How many times can an adult miss work for illnesses before they get fired? We need to teach students how to deal with some of their issues to build these skills for later in life. If it’s serious, document the days missed with medical notes, and we will work together to get the student caught up. Again, it needs to be within reason. How many notes could you give your boss or college professor?

So what do we do to improve student attendance? From my experience, it takes a collaborative effort from all parties to do this. No one person can have a significant impact. It starts with communication and expectations that need to be followed through with and consistent consequences if these are not met. I believe you must always use rewards and consequences for positive and negative behaviors. An example of this is excellent attendance rewards like no homework passes, free school lunch passes, lunch with the principal, school-wide attendance celebrations, attendance awards, etc. The consequences should be progressive, fair, and consistent. Verbal warnings, detentions, Saturday School, loss of privileges, etc.

The schools and parents need to be on the same page with these expectations to have optimal success. Habits and expectations all start at younger ages, so it is critical that elementary and middle schools follow strict attendance procedures to prevent a snowball effect in high school. School administrators know there will be some push back but need to stand firm because it is only going to be in the best interest of the students. If we buckle every time someone doesn’t agree with the policies or procedures, it will most definitely end up hurting the students in the long run when they are lacking these skills later in life. Doing the right thing can often be the hardest thing to do and also follow through with.

For more information on attendance, please visit this awesome website ATTENDANCE WORKS  http://www.attendanceworks.org/

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