KCSD board hears attendance improvement plans

MILL HALL — Attendance improvement was a highlight of the Keystone Central School Board’s work session Thursday night.

The issue of attendance has been ongoing since Superintendent Jacquelyn Martin discussed openly the problems she is seeing with attendance within the district.

Central Mountain High School Principal Nick Verrelli reported major changes to the district’s attendance policy to make improvements, specifically at the high school.

It was found that the high school saw an approximate 57 percent regular attendance rate throughout the entire school year.

“When we’re measured for our school performance profile, we are measured by the students who are in regular attendance and that is the alarming number that came up … the 57 percent regular attendance rate,” Martin said.

“That means that actually 57 percent of the students are here 90 percent of the time or better. That is not a daily percentage rate.”

“One of the biggest things that I want to point out is we are not putting our heads in the sand on this attendance issue. In fact, we are doing the exact opposite,” Verrelli said during his presentation. “We are putting it out there as much as we possibly can to let people know that it is not acceptable.”

Verrelli explained that the student improvement plan committee, which was formed last year, first sent out surveys to parents in the community and students to get an idea of what needs to be changed.

“Based on some of our surveys we got some results back that weren’t unbelievably surprising but it certainly kind of caught our eyes on where we need to go,” he said.

One issue that students addressed was the lack of positive relationships between themselves and their teachers.

“That was something that was relayed right away … that was something that we’re pushing as one of our main goals this year and that’s something that we want our kids and the community to understand is important to us,” Verrelli said.

The number of students who spoke about this issue in their survey was small, but still large enough that the committee felt they needed to address it, he said.

“It opened our eyes enough to know that we need to concentrate on that as one of our goals in the future,” he said.

Another issue that the improvements to the plan discussed was the lack of communication.

“Now there is an automated email, phone call, text sent at 9:15 every morning to every parents of every student that is not in school,” he said. “That was something that we didn’t have before, that is important. That is the communication right away to let (parents) know ‘your kid is not in school.'”

Attention to the district’s special education program was also highlighted.

“We’re doing a really nice job communicating on how our kids are doing in school … but what we were lacking was the extra piece of attendance,” Verrelli said.

The district has asked their case manager to keep a closer eye on students attendance and, if there is an issue, find out what is wrong and what can be done to get the student back to school, he said.

Many of the improvements have already been implemented this year including the phone call to parents, freshman orientation and a letter from the superintendent.

The high school also held faculty meetings and class meetings to ensure the rules and regulations are clearly communicated.

“We need to make sure that kids understand what our rules and procedures are and then we move forward with that,” Verrelli said. “We need our kids here, it is so valuable to have them here.”

The district also needs its teachers as well.

“As Ms. Martin has said before ‘we need the A-Team on the field all the time,'” Verrelli said. “If a subs coming in, they’re doing a nice job but they’re not doing nearly as nice a job as the teacher who is there everyday, knows the curriculum and content and has built relationships with those kids. We are pushing that on our teachers, that’s not just our high school level, that’s the whole way down.”