Thoughts from the Superintendent- Attendance

My first posting about security seemed to be well received!  Thanks for those of you who gave feedback.

One of the things we are focusing on this year is attendance.  If kids have high rates of absenteeism, it is harder for them to make progress in their learning goals.  We can send materials and assignments home or students can make them up when they return but it is difficult to replace the interactions and activities that happen inside the classroom.  We have great teachers but it is difficult for them to teach kids who aren’t in class!

Attendance as a high school student is a strong predictor of on-the-job attendance as an adult.  Attendance as a middle school student is a strong predictor of attendance as a high school student.  Attendance as an elementary student is a strong predictor of attendance as a middle school student.  And attendance in kindergarten is a strong predictor of attendance throughout the rest of his/her school career!  This is why many of our efforts are focused on our kindergarten and other elementary students and encouraging their families to have consistent attendance at a young age.

Strong attendance is something that the school district and families need to work on together.  As a school, we need to make sure we offer a challenging curriculum with a positive climate.  We need to provide a safe school where students do not fear bullying or harassment (a future article).  We also need to establish consistent procedures and policies about truancy or absenteeism.  We work closely with the county attorney’s office but prior to that, we communicate our expectations, and we set up plans when students are struggling to have good attendance.  We also work with other partners in the community – the Vinton and Shellsburg Police Departments have assisted us in doing well-child checks or making home visits.  We have a system to notify parents when their child is absent.

Perhaps the most important thing we do?  We work to include parents in the process.  Parents’ influence is one of the most important facts in determining whether students attend school regularly.  We try to provide ideas, strategies, tools and other supports so parents can assist in getting their children to attend school regularly.

As we recognized the need to encourage better attendance, we realized we needed someone to be a part of the work across the district.  Molly Noren is based at Tilford but she supports attendance across the district.  She makes phone calls, meets with parents, and establishes partnerships across the district and community to assist with improving our students’ attendance.

The good news?  Overall, most of our students are in school consistently.  Last year, we had over 94% average daily attendance K-8 (it’s harder to calculate the HS’s numbers as we take attendance by period instead of by the ½ day).  The bad news?  We have too many students who are chronically absent with about 11% of our students missing 18 or more days last year!

As we enter the winter season which often brings more colds, strep infections or influenza, we want to make sure those who are sick and contagious stay home.  However, for the rest, we need to work to be at school!

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments about attendance…or anything else that has to do with the school district!


Mary Jo Hainstock