Attendance is vital to school success


Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 2:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 2:26 p.m.

Recently, I had a parent call me to complain about one of our schools. She alleged that the school was not treating her son fairly and she wanted something done to correct the problem.

She further explained that her son was getting ready to graduate this June and he did not need the pressure from the school staff picking on him.

As I listened to her, and as I always do for the parents, I tried to provide the best customer service and assurance that I would investigate the claim and provide some follow-up.

When I probed into the young man's record, I discovered a world of inaccurate information. First, the young man was not a senior, nor was he about to graduate. He barely had enough credits to be a sophomore. He only earned 12 credits in his four years in high school and had a 1.3 grade point average. The state of Florida requires a 2.0 GPA and 24 credits to receive a standard diploma.

In addition, he had in excess of more than 30 days tardy and 74 absences for the school year.

When I finally broke the news to the mother, she was devastated and began to weep. I was really troubled by the dialogue we shared because she appeared to be a very nice and caring mother who loved her son and wanted the very best for him.

As I listened to her speaking passionately about her son's plans to attend college, I was drawn to help her through this ordeal she was now facing. I could only imagine her pain.

At the same time, I was computing in my mind that there must be many other mothers like this sweet lady without accurate information.

So many questions ran through my mind as I explored options for her to consider. I also was thinking of ways to avoid such letdowns in the future for other parents. I wondered if she knew the requirements for earning a standard diploma. Did she have the broadbase knowledge to understand curriculum requirements, etc? All these questions came into play.

After breaking the news to her about her son, it was now obvious that when she thought he was in school, he was elsewhere. So many more questions filled my head about her son and their relationship. At one point in our conversation and in her frustration, she began to blame the school.

I knew from past experience that this is a normal reaction from parents and I must allow the person to vent, without interruption.

I looked at all sides, even my own self-reflection of how we can improve communication with parents early about the possible pitfalls that may lie ahead when it comes to graduation requirements.

In this case, I called the school to try to determine where the breakdown could have occurred. I found the school was prudent in their actions and I felt they responded appropriately. They had many conversations with the mother, scheduled meetings to discuss her son's progress and sent home progress reports and report cards at the appointed times.

So, where was the burden in this case? Sadly to say, we learned that her son was leaving home every morning for school, but he often did not arrive at the school or the classroom. When he did attend school, he was way too late, and this occurred often.

In my investigation, I learned more about this young man. He is definitely capable of doing the work. The good news is that his ability to perform in the class is well within his reach. This is a classic case of not attending school regularly.

The No. 1 culprit for our students performing below the norm is poor attendance. It is imperative that we emphasize and encourage daily attendance. I believe we will see a great improvement in test scores if students are in attendance on a regular basis.

If instructional hours are part of a daily routine, there will be learning taking place in the classroom. There is an old saying, "Learn more to earn more." If we are to flourish in this world, we must return to our core values of family, faith and a strong commitment to education.

For the mother and son, we have placed him on a path to earn some credits during the remainder of the year and mapped out a plan for next year, provided he commits himself to the plan.

The lesson learned from this experience is costly and heart-breaking. Parents, now is the time to check on your child's progress. Be vigilant in your search for the truth about your child's performance and avoid being in denial.

Congratulations to all the prospective graduates. I hope you are demonstrating responsible feedback to loved ones at home.

Enjoy the spring break and exercise good decisions with the greatest amount of safety precautions.

See you when you return.

Philoron A. Wright is assistant to the superintendent of community and schools for Alachua County Public Schools.

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