As a student, I remember the days when I just did not feel like “doing school.” However, I hated make-up work, so I would roll out of bed, get ready for the day and walk to school. I knew that in order to do well I needed to be in school. Many years later as a principal, I am still fighting the attendance issue. The difference now is that I am on the other side of the big desk.
This year is the first year that Ohio schools are dealing with attendance issues under House Bill 410. Our state government believed that they should lessen the load on our juvenile court system by legislating attendance changes. Now, principals across the state are in a perpetual battle with the new attendance laws. This is a time-consuming and tedious process.
At Norwalk Middle School, Jackie Kelley, our attendance secretary, runs weekly attendance reports for me. From the reports, I generate attendance letters for students who are excessively absent or habitually truant. Habitually truant students then have to meet with a team, including their parents or guardians, in order to come up with a plan to remediate the attendance issue. If the student’s attendance does not improve after 61 days, the student may be reported to juvenile court. This is a time consuming process that can easily be avoided by being at school.
Through this entire process, I have seen firsthand what I have known to be true; not being at school has a significant impact on academic progress. All of the students we have met with regarding their attendance are struggling academically. During the meetings, we stress to the students that being here every day will help them to be successful. We also stress to the students that the habits they are developing now will positively or negatively affect their future. The students need to connect their now to their future and develop the habits needed to ensure future success. One of these habits is being at school every day just as they would be expected to do in their jobs as an adult.
So … the answer to the “do I have to go to school” question is yes. If students want to be successful, they have to be in school. If students want to stay out of the new attendance procedures which could end up in court, they have to be in school. Students, make-up work stinks. Norwalk Middle School is a great place to be. When all of the students are here, they make our school a better place. When they are not here, we miss them.
Local columnist Gary Swartz is the Norwalk Middle School principal.