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New rule puts school attendance in spotlight
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Gainesville Schools Superintendent Wanda Creel said her father taught her that if you’re going to do something, you should do it right.

Now, she wants to tailor that wisdom for the school district, particularly when it comes to attendance.

“I think our version of that should be, ‘Make every day count,’” she said, “and to make every day count, you need to show up.”

Creel said at a Board of Education meeting Monday that the Department of Education has changed its criteria for attendance.

Starting this year, six absences by a student will be seen as a cause for concern, down from 10 absences in the old criteria, which is a factor in the district’s College and Career Readiness Performance Index.

Creel has started a campaign to improve attendance, but she said the change in the CCRPI criteria isn’t the only reason.

“The real reason that attendance is important is that we can’t teach children if they’re not at school to learn,” she said. “The interaction that children have with their peers is critical to childhood development, and in addition it is starting to develop (work ethic).”

Work ethic and attendance were both recurring themes of Monday’s meeting. The board presented its first schoolwide high-attendance award — part of the initiative to encourage better attendance — and heard a song by Centennial Arts Academy students that was about career goals.

“This is their job now,” Creel said. “This is their work, and that will translate into their work habits.”

Current attendance numbers were not immediately available, but Creel said “it is an area we need to work on.”

In last year’s CCRPI, the district received 9.7 of a possible 10 points for attendance at elementary and middle schools, where attendance was around 96 percent, and 9.4 points for high schools, where attendance was about 93 percent.

The high attendance award was presented to Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School for 98 percent attendance last month.

In addition to more recognition for good attendance, Creel said the district will try to improve attendance by contacting parents and school officials when a child has missed three days of school.

She said the district will also work to make sure parents know the district will get involved once a child misses three days of school, will work to find out why children miss school and will ask faculty and staff to emphasize the importance of being at school.

One concern, she said, is how the Department of Education will work with families whose children have long-term illnesses.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s an excused absence or an unexcused absence,” she said. “Six absences will count against the school and the district.”

She said the department has not yet addressed what allowances, if any, it will make for children with long-term illnesses.

To encourage attendance by children who do not truly need to be out of school, Creel said she hopes everyone will pitch in.

“This truly is a community endeavor, and when we see children that aren’t in school, we need to work at making sure the appropriate authorities are informed,” she said.

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