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Empty school desks a greater worry with short calendar
Systems puts renewed focus on student attendance
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With the school calendar shrinking along with the amount of class time students get, attendance has become exponentially more important, school officials say.

Both Gainesville City and Hall County Schools monitor attendance numbers and, if necessary, take action to ensure students are in class as much as possible.

“First of all, attendance is incredibly important, but as the times change ... as we have less and less school, it becomes more and more important for kids to be here when we do have school,” said Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield.

During the 2005-2006 school year, almost 11 percent of Hall County students missed more than 15 days of class. From 2010 to 2011, that number was reduced to 8.6 percent.

For the same year, 54 percent of the county system’s student body missed five or fewer days.

“I’d like to believe it’s the relevancy of our programs, the fact that people have really worked hard at the school and community levels to build programs that kids want to be a part of,” Schofield said.

“We all know that it’s easier to go to something that we find fun and pleasant, that we find a positive experience. I just would like to believe that as you create schools that are more and more relevant, that kids can get excited about coming to, attendance will tend to go up and we’ve tried to preach that for awhile now.”

During the 2005-2006 school year, Gainesville City Schools saw 10 percent of its student population miss more than 15 days as well. That number climbed to 10.4 in 2007-2008.

But in 2010-2011, 8 percent of the student body was missing 15 or more days.

“One of the shifts we made was we were just focusing on the students that were missing days, but what about the other 80 percent that are doing what they need to do?,” said Jarod Anderson, director of learning support for Gainesville schools. “What are we doing to encourage and motivate them? So that was one of the shifts that we made.”

This year, he said, the system has only had two or three students with compulsory absence issues.

“We are looking at ways to be more proactive,” Anderson said. “We just kind of saw we were kind of waiting for students to miss and then we would start doing things to intervene.”

That work, he said, happens on an individual school basis through various incentive programs.

But, Anderson said, he stresses the need for constant conversations from faculty to students, and, he said it’s an ever-changing challenge.

“Of course, it’s very important,” he said. “To keep them there is always a challenge. That’s something we’ve been trying to figure out for the last 10 years that I’ve been here.”

And with technology becoming more relevant in and out of the classroom, the way students attend school will shift and mold with that landscape.

“It’s incredibly important,” Schofield said. “One of things we need to move toward is redefining time on task. The quicker we can get to opportunities in this digital age for kids to be keeping up with school and extending school beyond the school day, the better off they’ll be.

“We’re going to have to start to redefine what attendance looks like and what school looks like and I would bet that 10 years from now school will look very different than it does now.”

With that technology could come a way to provide students with chronic illness or a legitimate excuse to stay off campus an avenue to not miss instruction.

That, Schofield said, is the idea of shifting that definition of attendance.

“I really look forward to the day when those kids can log on online and can participate via video conferencing,” he said. “Again, that school can be expanded beyond the walls of our building.”