By: Lydia Crawley
The Parsons Advocate
Tucker County High School Principal Alex Cork updated the Tucker County School Board on his school’s efforts in academics, as well as how his school is combating chronic absenteeism among the students. During the meeting, the Board discussed the issue of reinstating Academic Leave for students.
Tucker County School Superintendent Alicia Lambert said that other school systems around the state have reinstated the policy as a way to comply with state attendance standards. According to Lambert, Academic Leave was the one policy that schools who were in good standing with the state had utilized to augment their attendance numbers. “One of the things that we are finding that other school systems are allowing, and I’m not really for it, is they have brought back Educational Leave,” Lambert said.
Tucker County Schools had abolished the policy years ago, according to Lambert, but with current trends in attendance of students, the Board may need to look at reinstatement of the policy to stay in good standing with the state. Lambert did acknowledge that the policy was abolished partially due to the possibility of abuse. During the discussion, Lambert said that if brought back, the leave would likely need an overhaul in parameters and specific guidelines for what it could cover. In the past, upon return, students were required to make a presentation about what they did or visited while on Academic Leave, according to Lambert. A reexamining of the policy could help to close loopholes that could be exploited in the policy, Lambert outlined. “We did away with it in this county because we felt it was being taken advantage of,” Lambert said.
Lambert also informed the board that the elementary middle schools have attendance numbers that would have them in good standing with the State, but the High School attendance continues to bring the county down. “Our elementary middles schools are functioning in a way that we would be out of the red, but the high school is pulling us to red with their chronic absenteeism rate,” Lambert said.
The subject of attendance was a large part of the presentation Cork gave to the Board. According to Cork, the High School has had a 7% improvement in attendance since last year, but the attendance numbers will still not meet the state standards. According to Cork, chronically absent students are designated as missing 10% or more of their days. Within those numbers Cork acknowledged are those students who have doctor’s notes and those with documented long-term illnesses and conditions. “If we can keep our numbers right where we’re at, that’s a 7% improvement,” Cork said. “That’s not good enough. That’s not going to make the State happy. That’s not going to make the staff happy, including me, but we are trying to get ahead of it.”
According to Cork that morning, 30.66% of his students were chronically absent. Cork said the first thing he does each morning is look at the attendance numbers. “I start my day each day by pulling that percentage,” Cork said. “30.66 %, so that’s just under one third of our kids have missed 10% or more.”
Cork said he and his staff are working to improve student attendance. According to Cork, the key may lie in one-on-one attention. Cork said he and his staff are aiming to provide one on one support to students who routinely miss school with a special focus on those students whose attendance is borderline in hopes to keep them from being listed chronically absent. Cork referred to the subject of attendance as perhaps the hardest part of his job. “I can control the school day, but I cannot control a kid getting on a bus.”
According to Cork, the State average is 30.2% with the school’s current numbers being at around the State average. Cork said his school aims to be better than average. “We are not aiming here to be an average school.”
Cork outlined that his staff have been exploring several avenues to increase student attendance beyond the one-on-one interventions and conferences his staff engage in. Included in the efforts are: suspension of driving privileges for those student drivers with ten or more non-medical absences, peer groups, random prize days, bringing back a store for students to exchange award cards for prizes, designating 12 prime parking spots as reserved for students with the highest attendance, as well as earlier afternoon dismissal for those students with the highest attendance.
Cork acknowledged that the problem does not have a single solution. Not every chronically absent student has the same mitigating factors, according to Cork. While he and his staff struggle to find a solution, they are addressing each case as individually as possible due to the infinite number of possible causes, according to Cork. Cork said that he wishes that parents took attendance more seriously and cited that there was a direct correlation between school attendance and work attendance later in life. “I wish people could see the opportunities that are missed when their kids don’t come to school,” Cork said.
According to Cork, the State considers a child to be a lost cause after a certain number of absences. However, Cork maintained he does not view it that way. According to Cork, he and his staff are dedicated to never giving up on any student. Cork said his school’s strength comes from caring for all students and the key to fixing the attendance issue may be in caring.
Lambert outlined that school systems with more amenities have higher attendance rates. Lambert said the system used to compare schools across the state was not like “comparing apples to apples.” Lambert outlined the lack of amenities that areas like Tucker County has. Many students have to travel some distance for such necessities as doctor appointments, therapy and orthodontics and that many families will clear entire days to take care of whatever they need while they are in places like Morgantown for an appointment due to the travel required to get there. “It’s not the same,” Lambert said. “You’re not comparing apples to apples. So, this is Doctor’s notes. I wish it were just kids who were unexcused or just kids who were attendance problems because these are doctor’s notes, these are dentist appointments, these are therapy appointments. These are all the things that kids have to miss school for, but it doesn’t matter if its excused or not and for our kids the majority can’t get their braces checked in Tucker County so they have to go to Morgantown, they have to go to Clarksburg, they have to go to Bridgeport, to Buckhannon and that’s a full day.”
The next meeting of the Tucker County School Board will be held December 18 at 4:30 p.m. at the Tucker County Board of Education Office located at 100 Education Lane in Parsons.