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High school addressing attendance
By Brenda Sexton, The Courier-Herald
Principal Terry Parker admits Enumclaw High School has had a huge attendance problem this year.
It's a problem that saw first-semester absences jump from 132 students with 12 or more in one or more classes to 430 in the same period for the 2003-04 school year.
It's a problem that has frustrated administrators, parents and teachers and been ridiculed by students in their newspaper "The Hornet."
Parker is banking on a proposed new policy and changes in administration structure to fix it.
"Our experience shows us we'll be much more effective," Parker said of the revised policy, which was presented to a handful of people who had gathered Thursday afternoon for a summit meeting at the district office. The formal portion of the meeting was postponed because the policy was not going to be presented to EHS staff until Friday afternoon. The Attendance Policy Review Committee will have the opportunity to fine tune the document and vote on it between 3 and 6 p.m. Tuesday. The public is invited to attend, but is asked to call the high school at 360-802-7669 to register so a facility can be determined.
"I'm confident we'll be back in good position next year," Parker said.
Parker explained for the past few years, a student with 12 or more absences failed the semester. He said it was effective and efficient, but not consistent and he and others worried it kept students from the education the district promises them.
Students this fall soon learned how to take advantage of the less restrictive system.
"No one will deny there's an attendance problem," security officer Randy Gallatin told the small group that gathered Thursday afternoon. "We tried something new this year and it didn't work.
"It wasn't consistent and it wasn't kept up with," Gallatin said. "We believe this is going to work. No one will deny it was broke this year."
According to Gallatin, EHS has filed 10 Becca Bill petitions with King County Superior Court this year with five more coming up.
According to the King County Web site information on the Becca Bill, a school may file a petition to the Superior Court after five absences in a month. However, the school is required to file a petition after seven absences in a month or 10 absences in a year.
"Obviously it has a negative impact on teachers who are constantly dealing with makeup work," Parker said. He added it also has an impact on student success, as students who attend class regularly are more successful.
To add insult to injury, when the high school broke into seven small schools, each had a leader, principal or vice principal, to track absences instead of a central location or a lead person who kept track of the entire student population.
"We became less efficient in enforcing our existing policy," Parker said.
A group started examining the attendance problem in February.
"This year boundaries were somewhat fuzzy and they (students) figured that out quite early," Parker said. "Next year, with tighter boundaries and a better administrative effort, the kids will respond to that and we'll be back to where we should be."
One change is the district will bring in Foundations Director Jill Burnes to replace retiring Vice Principal Ann Baker. Burnes will concentrate on attendance.
Parker said the school also saw a significant increase in fraud in the form of forged notes and student cell phone numbers. In the new policy, only written notes will be accepted for excused absences.
Policy changes will include stiffening discipline for truancy and tardiness.
School leaders also reworked the classifying system for absences and in which cases make-up work will, and will not, be accepted.
Parker said EHS is also working on better parent-school communication.
EHS is purchasing an automated phone/e-mail system that will notify a parent or guardian if a student is absent one or more periods. EHS will buy a "family access" system this fall that gives parents and guardians 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week access to their students' attendance and grade records.
"We've never had that capability before," Parker said.
He anticipates the changes to be positive for students, families and teachers.
Before Tuesday's meeting, Gallatin is welcoming comments and suggestions. He may be contacted at 360-802-7701 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Brenda Sexton can be reached at email@example.com