A Reader Asks… High School Attendance

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A reader asks the following:

SC,

Do you have any great ideas on how to raise attendance at the High School level?

SC Response Actually I do.  As a Principal, I was an attendance fanatic, my mantra being:

1. Get them in school.
2. Get them in class.
3. Get them in college.

And everyone on my campus, from student to teacher to parent knew that Number 3 would never happen if Number 1 didn’t happen first. 

Now I was a young Principal, so I had next to no finess. But I made up for that deficit with singular focus.  Here is what we did.

We built short-term rewards for attendance. Mostly extra privelegdes and preferences. After all, if you come to work, you get paid.  So if you came to school, you got perks.

We (campus leadership) called parents during first period is the student wasn’t in school.  No robo-calls.  We wanted to talk to a live person, and short of the student pukeing blood, we wanted them in school.

We (teachers) called our students if they missed two days in a row, to check up on the student and let them know that they were missed. This meant that there were multiple calls to the student that day.

If neccessary, we would go out and pick students up.

We let local law enforcement know that if they caught any students on the street during school hours, if they were ours, bring them to us.

We (campus leadership) sent a certifed letter to parents after the first unexcused absence and the third excused absence.  We didn’t wait, we documented and prepared to take further action, immediately.

We (campus leadership) filed truancy charges at the earliest allowable time.  And we (campus leadership) attended truancy court.

I met all of the judges that had jurisdiction over the truancy cases from my campus, in their chambers, to introduce myself and explain our intent to have students attend school and to see if the judge had any issues with the way we supported and enforced attendance.

I played in all of my truancy judges’ fund raising golf tournaments.

I donated to my truancy judges’ re-election campaigns.

I made it clear to students and parents that I wanted my students in my school and that if they tried to circumvent that, they would not be successful.

With this labor intensive, top-down model, my attendance rate was always above 92%. And I was (and still am) proud of the number.

But I wasn’t the best.

Judith Solis (now the Superintendent of La Villa ISD) had better numbers than I did, in an even tougher setting (don’t tell her I actually admitted this).  One of her strategies was to get on the intercom during 1st period and tell her students, “Look around. Is one of your friends not here right now? Take out your cell phone right now and call them.  We have learning going on and they are missing it.”

Impressive!

And the best I have ever seen was Jeb Stuart High School when Mel Riddel was the principal (now he is on the Executive Staff at NASSP). At his inner-city high school he kept his attendance in the 96% range. His secret strategy, every morning, everyone of his student received a school generated wake-up call. “Good morning, this is Jeb Stuart High School.  The high today will be 42 degrees. Don’t forget your coat.” 

Pure Genius!!

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