Working on the Absentee Problem, by Warren Galletti
Editor’s Note: This is the third of a five-part series on the Point Arena schools written by District Superintendent Warren Galletti.
Last month, I talked about the strategic plan for our schools and I noted that the plan has three broad goals. I focused on the second goal because it deals with the critical area of student behavior. It was the product of a great deal of discussion with all the stakeholders in the community – faculty, students, parents and service providers.
The second goal is to create a safe orderly, productive, positive healthy environment that cherishes diversity and collaboration. It recognizes that there’s a definite correlation between student attendance, behavior and grades. Let’s take one of these, attendance.
Attendance problems aren’t just kids playing hooky once in a while. In our District there are multiple problems that can cause a student to fail to come to school.
Childcare is a huge issue. Many families here are struggling to make a living, to put food on the table, to clothe their children. Our economy is a real challenge. Older children are taking care of their younger siblings when adults are working, and sometimes that means they miss days at school.
Our staff makes the calls to help. We do our best to serve as a resource. We assist in finding day care, and with calls to get younger siblings to and from school. The elementary and high school staffs pick up and deliver students whohave issues getting to and from school.
Transportation is a huge issue. Point Arena is faced with more problems than other districts because we’re geographically so spread out. Our seven buses run from Manchester to the north end of The Sea Ranch. About 60% percent of our K-12 grade students ride the bus to school.
This means some of our students board the school bus around 6am and don’t make it home until 4:30 or 5pm—that’s a seven-hour school day stretched out into an 11-hour day. Imagine riding a school bus two hours before school, and the same again after school gets out.
Then there’s the issue of how to get to the school bus. Our bus stops are spread out. For example, the entire Gualala Ridge run has only eight pick-up spots. Most parents have to drive their students to the bus or all the way to school.
Some of our parents don’t have driver’s licenses, so they have to make other arrangements. This happens daily tobetween one-and-five students, and not always the same students, who can’t find a ride to the bus or to school.
Hiring bus drivers is a difficult problem and it’s statewide. Pay isn’t as great as other driving jobs, there’s stringent clearance, drug testing, and long work hours.
School bus drivers need to want to drive 60-80 students to school, and be able to deal with discipline problems on the bus. The responsibility for keeping students safe on the bus is up to them.
We work with these bus drivers. We talk about how they’re the first employee of the school the students see, how they have to be welcoming, consistent, and firm. And, we talkwith students and their parents who are having trouble on the bus.
To add to this, our school buses break down. So far this year, we’ve had at least five school bus breakdowns.
Two new, 2020 school busses will have replaced two of the 1995 buses now in service by the time you read this article. (They’re waiting on a CHP inspection.) This purchase was made possible by a $300,000 grant funded by the Mendocino County Air Quality Board.
We’ve created incentives to make attendance a priority.
At the high school, we now have the Ice Cream Social. This is the idea of our principal, Marty Wilkes. Each month, students who have above 95% attendance are honored with either a root beer float, ice cream sundae or a treat in a cup served to them by a Point Arena School Board member.
Once a semester, student athletes, who have played a varsity sport, earned a 3.75 GPA and have a 95% attendance record receive a Scholar Athletic Jacket.
These incentives are working, they’re encouraging students to attend school, and they’re boosting morale. The emphasis is on the student.
In fall, we’re implementing a local Student Attendance Review Board (SARB) program, an idea I implemented in Ukiah that proved successful.
It’s about families, law enforcement, social services, probation, grandparents, friends, counselors and teachers working together —a full picture—anyone involved in the student’s life participating in solving the problem.
The goal is to hold the family accountable, but, at the same time, we must meet our commitments too.
At Ukiah, under SARB, 70% of students with attendance problems improved drastically. Our SARB is modeled after Ukiah’s.
I strongly believe if we all work together, if we’re all part of a solution, we can support the growth of our students.And, of course, the improved attendance will help behavior problems, and, ultimately, academic performance.
The next Superintendent’s Community Meeting will be held at Point Arena High School on Wednesday, April 24 from 3-4pm in the school’s library.
This is a community meeting where all should feel free to talk. We’re looking for true representation of our community.
The District has assigned a Spanish-speaking translator to attend the meeting. There will be no agenda. Discussions may touch on improved attendance, the two new school buses, new heating systems and/or our new surveillance cameras.
All community members, from The Sea Ranch to Manchester to Annapolis and beyond, are invited. Contact District Secretary Lisa Riboli at 882-2803 for more information.