School board cracking down on attendance

Published 9:21 pm Monday, July 24, 2017

A new attendance policy will make it more important than ever for parents to keep a line of communication open with teachers.

On Thursday, the Troup County School Board voted to update its policy concerning student absences and excuses so that there will be stiffer penalties for students with more than seven unexcused absences. The updated policy will hold students to turning in excuses for absences, whether that absence is due to a doctor’s appointment or missing the bus — by enforcing harsher penalties for students who are regularly absent. If those absences cannot be excused, then students may even find themselves repeating classes.

“As I’m sure you are aware, attendance is not the best in many of our schools,” Assistant Superintendent Karen Cagle said during the work session last week. “It is an ongoing struggle, but this year it is something that we really must take on and try to make an impact. We are really trying to improve student achievement, and students have to be in school to receive instruction to achieve.”

During the 2016-2017 school year, high school teachers in Troup County reported high percentages of students who had seven or more unexcused absences from school. Callaway High School reported 40 percent, LaGrange High School 31 percent and Troup High School that 36 percent of students had seven or more unexcused absences a year. The school system usually excuses absences when the student is able to bring a note from a doctor or parent stating the reason for the absence when they return, but the new policy will still be a major change for parents and students alike.

“This is a big cultural change, and we’ve tried other things,” School Board Member Kirk Hancock said. “We’ve tried carrots, and now we’re trying sticks. It is a problem, so we’ve got to keep trying until something works.”

In the past, the school system has tried other methods to improve attendance like allowing students with good attendance to skip finals. Now that other incentive programs have had little effect on attendance, the system is now implementing consequences like summer school and weekend classes to make up for time missed.

“This is good, and we’ve been attempting to do it for years,” School Board Member Cathy Hunt said, further commenting that when she served as a high school teacher attendance to first period classes was a reoccurring problem.

Some concern was expressed over how the policy could affect students with good grades but unreliable means of transportation during the work session, but the school board ultimately approved the policy changes.

The schools are also currently working on plans to better monitor and improve attendance, but the details of those plans were not available at the time of the meeting.

Funding for services approved

The school board also approved contracts for student services through the Exceptional Education Center during the meeting. The contracts include $67,000 for interpreter services, $65,000 for physical therapy services, $7,266.86 for audiology services and $16,895.16 for occupational therapy.

A total of $50,000 in hosting fees was also approved by the board for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to cover a series of programs including iRead, Read 180, System 44 and Reading Inventory. Read 180, iRead and System 44 all focus on bringing students up to grade level reading scores, which are measured by the Reading Inventory.

The programs proved effective during the 2016-2017 school year, and school board members have voiced high hopes for the potential of the programs during previous meetings.

New employees approved

The school board voted to hire a number of employees during the meeting. The vote also included the approval of promotions, including Veleka Battle who has served as a science teacher at LaGrange High School. Battle will now become the assistant principal at LaGrange High School. William Screws, a Troy University graduate with 24 years of experience, was hired to be the assistant principal at Callaway Elementary School.  According to Assistant Superintendent John Radcliffe, with this approval, the school system will have hired most of the employees needed for the upcoming year.

Computers purchased

The school board approved the purchase of eight Chromebook carts for a total of $83,198.40.  The computers are for HOPE Academy, Long Cane Middle School, Gardner Newman Middle School, Callaway Middle School, Callaway High School, LaGrange High School and Troup County Comprehensive High School.

The purchase will cover 288 laptops, storage carts and accessories like power cords.

Also approved were access control updates to Troup County Comprehensive High School totaling $44,929.38. The control system will bring Troup’s door security system up to the same level where LaGrange High School and Callaway High School security systems are currently.

The Troup County Board of Education is scheduled to meet again on Aug. 17 at 100 North Davis Road, Building C at 5:30 p.m.