To paraphrase education philosopher Yogi Berra, "School success is 90 percent showing up; the other half is mental." While humorous as it is, this quote really hits home with one of the most direct keys to student academic success. "Being there."
Recently in the Times-Republican, Luke Stalzer surveyed community members to see what they thought would be ways to improve attendance in our schools. Suggestions such as incentives, more interactive classrooms, more one on one time, and consequences for truancy that would involve community service were possible solutions. Actually, the most effective intervention is to work with students on a case by case process.
Our school district has a policy that defines excessive attendance for our students that all parents get at registration or at the beginning of the school. The district uses an electronic attendance system to accurately monitor daily attendance. Once a student reaches a certain number of days absent, a parent is notified.
Our building principals and staff monitor attendance closely. They problem solves ways to improve student attendance by holding attendance compliance meetings with families and students, doing home visits, and creating individual goals for students to improve their attendance. Teachers are working to continue to improve the curriculum to make it relevant to the real world and involve activity-based lessons.
When these efforts fail, the school reaches out to the county attorney to follow up with the legal consequences of truancy. If not corrected the parent or guardian may be fined. At times the issue is not corrected with a fine alone because the student rarely feels the sting of the cost to the parent.
Our district has set a goal of 95 percent attendance for students in our Strategic Plan. That translates to a student missing a total of nine day all school year. Our past history for district attendance is as follows: 2007-08 = 92.63 percent, 2008-09=93.04 percent, 2009-10=93.21 percent, and 2010-11=93.42 percent.
We are currently at 93.51 percent attendance as I write this article. All of our elementary buildings are above 95 percent attendance currently. While we have made progress and the district plans to continue to focus on attendance at all levels. The education of all Marshalltown students is the most important priority for our staff.
Lisa Koester is director of human resources and student issues for the Marshalltown Community School District.