AHS attendance policy criticized

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 31, 2001

An existing policy is not working and Austin Board of Education members don’t believe a proposed new policy will work.

Thursday, May 31, 2001

An existing policy is not working and Austin Board of Education members don’t believe a proposed new policy will work.

Email newsletter signup

That was the fate of Joe Brown, Austin High School principal, at this week’s school board meeting.

Brown came to Tuesday’s meeting prepared to win the school board members’ endorsement of his new attendance policy.

He left with the proposed policy skewered by all seven school board members, who also used the opportunity to discuss the apparent failure of the AHS identification card policy.

Brown told the board members he surveyed all Big Nine Conference high schools and found the AHS attendance policy "totally out of synch."

He said the district needed a new written policy that was tougher and pointed out an AHS senior with 79 absences excused by her parent this year. "She won’t graduate," Brown predicted.

Brown’s goal for grades 9-12 is 90 percent attendance. Now, the average daily attendance at AHS is less than 80 percent of the students enrolled for classes, with about 260 students gone every school day.

"What we need is an attendance policy that will hold students, their parents and the school accountable," Brown said. "There can be no more deals. Parents and students don’t like them. The policy must be consistently enforced. Three unexcused absences and you’re gone should do that."

For over an hour, the board members pored over Brown’s eight-page attendance policy, beginning with board member Dick Lees’ assertion, "This policy may be to difficult to manage."

Lees also questioned Brown’s recommendation for a "senior privilege" status that would allow the 12th-graders to leave school during lunch and one unassigned period. Lees said giving seniors special treatment was "asking for more problems."

Board member Kathy Green kept an open mind about Brown’s proposal to correct AHS attendance woes. Green said communication between the school and families needs to be improved.

From the beginning, board member Amy Baskin was skeptical. She called the proposal an "administrative nightmare" and quickly segued into another area of concern, "You spend more time worrying about the ID card than teaching kids."

Brown shot back, "It’s a nightmare because we have allowed this to go on for a decade."

The critics among school board members said the ID card policy – each student, faculty member and support staff person in AHS must bear a card bearing their picture on a bright red rope around their neck during school days – is not uniformly enforced. Some teachers strictly adhere to the policy; others don’t.

Board Chairman David Simonson was among those critics who felt that way.

"It has to be consistent," Simonson said.

As board members Bev Nordby, Larry Andersen and Bruce Loveland continued to nitpick the proposed policy, the discussion returned once more to the controversial ID card policy invoked in the 2000-2001 school year.

Baskin had the last words.

"I think all the time and energy spent on the ID card policy this year could have been better spent," she said. "It’s a power struggle that really isn’t important."

As to the proposed attendance policy’s "three unexcused absences and expulsion," Baskin also spoke passionately.

"Our dropout rate is already bad enough," she said. "Why do we want to make it worse?"

Two other policy reviews fared better before the board.

Susan Roehrich won the board’s approval of the first reading of a non-traditional credit policy.

The credits are limited to correspondence courses, virtual/on-line courses, distance learning and independent studies.

The policy is expected to be acted upon when the board meets again June 11.

Brown was more successful with a proposed new ninth-grade transition pilot program.

As proposed by the high school administration team, the program would serve 100 students in four sections during the 2001-2002 school year.

The students would be those who are reading two or more grade levels below the ninth-grade level, have failed either of the Minnesota graduation rule reading or math tests or who have failed multiple core classes in the eighth grade.

The yearlong class would be a daily starting point for the transition students. The ninth-grade teachers would divide into four groups of three teachers each who will meet with the students on a daily basis during the first period of the school day.

An assessment process will measure the success of the ninth-grade transition pilot program during the next school year.

The board members unanimously endorsed Brown’s proposal.

Call Lee Bonorden at 434-2232 or e-mail him at lee.bonorden@austindailyherald.com.