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South Callaway School district pushes for increased attendance

MOKANE, Mo. - The South Callaway School Board heard testimony from the district’s principals Wednesday evening on ways to improve attendance overall in the district.

The district did not meet MSIP5 attendance standards last year. The basic standard is that 90 percent of students are in attendance 90 percent of the time.

“It was out of all the different areas we’re measured, that was the lowest area,” Gary Bonsall, South Callaway Middle School principal, said. “So, all of us principals have definitely put a focus on that area.”

Bonsall said he spoke with Superintendent Kevin Hillman on other areas that are affected by attendance such as free-and-reduced lunch programs and Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test scores. With a focus on improving the district’s percentage of attendance, Bonsall and his staff calculated a list of 35 students that will not meet the MSET-5 standard if they continue missing school throughout the end of the year. Bonsall’s findings showed of those 35 students:

• 81.8 percent had a history of missing school,

• 69.7 percent participated in the National School Lunch Program for free or reduced lunch,

• 69.7 percent were at the basic or below basic level for MAP communication arts,

• 66.7 percent were at the basic of below basic level for MAP math,

• 60 percent of the eighth graders on the list were at basic or below level for MAP science. Eighth graders are the only middle school students who take the MAP science test.

Bonsall said the middle school is in the “initial stages of brainstorming” attendance solutions after a staff meeting on Tuesday. The principals attested to sending letters at the beginning of the year outlining the importance of attendance and sending additional letters if attendance is a worry. Bonsall said if the severity of the absences warrants it, he and other principles can call juvenile authorities to look into the issue. He added that he has not yet needed to take that drastic of an action.

During the most recent middle school parent-teacher conferences, Bonsall met with certain students and their parents to discuss attendance problems. This was a new way, he said, of tackling the issue.

Bonsall discussed an idea at the board meeting of a staff committee in charge of attendance. With 20 middle school staff members, Bonsall said, each would be assigned two to three students on his list of 35 to keep tabs on throughout the year.

“This way they can make contact with the parent and build a rapport,” Bonsall said.

Corey Pontius, principal of the elementary school, said attendance enforcement needs to be enhanced with the younger students to establish good habits early. But because of their young age, Pontius said, missing school is not always the child’s choice.

“Our students, often times, are at the mercy of their parents,” Pontius said. “They can’t hop in the car and drive.”

Pontius said the elementary school students are recognized for satisfactory attendance individually and as a class.

Heather Helsel, principal of South Callaway High School, reported a 96.87 percent attendance rate for this year. She said letters are sent to parents after the sixth and eighth absences.

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