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Attendance policy raises expectations

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A school district policy to reduce absenteeism appears to be achieving the desired results -- forming good habits in preschoolers (and their families) and establishing expectations for older students who will soon be joining the work force.

The policy, adopted at the beginning of the school year, limits students to nine absences per semester. Whether the absences are excused or unexcused, any student who misses more than nine days a semester is identified as "chronically absent."

The chronically absent students and their parents are required to sit down with school administrators to develop a plan to improve attendance. The policy outlines possible consequences for students with more than nine non-exempt absences per year.

According to the policy, "Frequent absences may lead to poor academic work, lack of social development and possible academic failure. Regular attendance is of utmost importance for school interest, social adjustment and scholastic achievement. No single factor may interfere with a student's progress more quickly than frequent tardiness or absence."

The policy also outlines intermediary steps to be taken after four and six unexcused absences.

Cedaredge Elementary School principal Dan Renfrow said there have been some growing pains, as school administrators get the word out to students and their parents.

Not all parents attend accountability meetings or back-to-school nights, so procedures are slowly becoming practice.

"Our view is that this policy will establish lifelong habits of punctuality, of being in the right place ready to go and to contribute," Renfrow said.

While some parents react negatively to phone calls or letters from the school, Renfrow and other school administrators try to focus on building relationships. "It's not us vs. them," Renfrow said. "We're a team."

Paonia Junior-Senior High School principal Randall Palmer notes there are varying reasons for absences, ranging from serious illness to family trauma to transportation.

"What we've encountered is that each of these students is unique and requires a unique answer in order to keep them in school and engaged," he told school board members in a board-principal exchange in late November.

Delta High School principal Derek Carlson noted attendance is no longer centered around excused or unexcused; it's centered around attendance.

"At the high school level, it's a young adult conversation about managing attendance. A big reason it's been successful for us, is because it's forced kids to be more adult-like. Everybody gets days off; just know that when you get back from vacation with your parents, you can't also take a day to go shopping at the mall."

Expectations for students mirror those for school district employees, who also get nine employee days for sick leave, personal leave, whatever.

"Why wouldn't we teach kids that lesson?" Carlson said. "This policy gives us the ability to hold them accountable."

DHS senior Kaleigh Nethington says she's definitely seen more of the kids who last year continually "ditched." "I also see a lot more kids not showing up late, which is really good because then it doesn't disrupt our learning when they come in late."

Teachers are more consistent about taking attendance every class period, she said, tallying up both absences and tardies. Four tardies equal one absence, she added.

On the other hand, Taylor Bess said the attendance policy is frustrating. In the first semester the DHS senior went on vacation with her parents, then attended a funeral, which put her in danger of losing class credit if she missed any more school days. "It's frustrating because even if I'm doing really well in my classes, I could still potentially lose credit.

"I think for a lot of other kids, it's a good incentive to keep them coming to school. It just doesn't work for everyone."

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