Douglas schools on mark in truancy struggle
April 17, 2013
As a community, it is important to recognize that the dedicated staff and principals of our schools and the school district administration are hitting the mark in their front end preventive response to truancy.
On a daily basis, our schools are operating with a strategy of putting students first, and building a strong foundation of academic and personal achievement around them. It is this very philosophy that is key to attendance and progress for students in the district.
Arguably when the school itself is running well, in the areas of operations, logistics, appearances, equipment, staff and curriculum, students will take pride in their campus. They will respect their teachers and support staff. They will strive to be good students. They will want to attend school even on those "hard to get out of bed days."
I've been to our schools and the concept of school pride and identity runs through the district. The principals are constantly striving for the staffing and the resources to foster academic achievement and school safety.
The teachers are in the classroom prepared, knowledgeable and effective, they go the distance for the sake of the students in their classrooms.
The counselors are in the trenches with the good, the bad, and the confusing.
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The support staff are dedicated to managing attendance, supporting administration, facilitating parent and community contact, meeting nutritional requirements, meeting special needs and gifted requirements and keeping our schools clean and in order.
Don't forget the bus driver, in some cases, the first contact of the school day. When that door opens, and the child gets on they are the ambassador to the campus.
This type of atmosphere across the board encourages attendance and attachment to school and results in personal and academic achievement for our children. Subsequently, when parents and families support and cherish the academic process, their children in turn will prosper with a solid education preparing them for the world of work and family.
Our school district can boast an 82 percent high school graduation rate and it is rated No. 1 school district in Nevada by schooldigger.com. A good place to get an education.
Here is where the alarm goes on. In my work with the Supreme Court Commission on Juvenile Justice Reform in Nevada, a subcommittee on School Attendance and Disturbance was established to research the correlation between school attendance and juvenile delinquency.
The research is current and the outcomes are alarming.
As a point of clarification, truancy is a status offense in juvenile law. Other status offenses are running away, incorrigible behavior, curfew, loitering, and if the 2013 Nevada Legislature has its way we will have an underage tobacco smoking law that will be a status offense as well.
■ Between 1985 and 1994, nationally, the number of status offense truancy cases before the courts increased 67 percent
■ Between 1995 and 2007 this trend continued as truancy cases before the courts increased from 34,100 to over 57,000.
■ The literature on predictors of later troubles for youth has clearly identified truancy as one of the early warning signs of a student headed for delinquent activity, drug and alcohol use, and educational failure or dropping out of school all together.
■ Chronic truancy leads to high school dropout, and dropouts are greatly over-represented among prison and jail inmates.
■ Excessive early absence in K-1, excused or unexcused, has shown a clear prediction of later poor achievement, truancy, and dropping out
These are just a few pieces of in-depth research which is driving home for us the importance of consistent school attendance and attachment and its role in successful academic outcomes.
It is essential to address the issue of absenteeism in school well before it becomes a truancy problem. Our schools, that pay attention to absences and work to address the problem at the front end, will improve their attendance numbers on a daily basis. Parents play a lead role in fostering and emphasizing the importance of the high school diploma and consistent school attendance and getting the educational job done. This collaboration between school and parent is essential to academic success of our children.
Effective prevention strategies that keep youth engaged in school and in the community and demonstrate effective collaboration between legal and education systems will help prevent truancy and ultimately reduce the number of school dropouts.
The good news is that Douglas County School District Truancy Review Board has implemented a strategy that has produced improved attendance and academic performance for at-risk students.
The members of the "team" include school district administration, school district truancy specialist, school counselors, school teachers, sheriff school resource officer, a district attorney, juvenile probation officer and mental health professionals.
This wrap around strategy intervenes with truancy at a high level of concern. The Truancy Review Board is aligned with our state statutes and more important the design is evidenced based and outcome driven. It works in most cases.
Kids will always miss school. Kids will drop out for what ever reason even after every intervention has been made. Parents who are not doing their part, will be brought to the table, and to court if necessary, to emphasize to them, their absolute responsibility around the education of their children. If a child is failing and truancy is evident parents will have to answer as to why.
The front end approach to education is working in Douglas County School District thanks to the leadership in the district and most importantly the teachers and staff who on a daily basis give their best on behalf of their students. Their efforts are praiseworthy and indispensable.
Scott J. Shick is chief of Douglas County Juvenile Services.