Bibb Schools targets truancy in aim to improve academics
The more days Bibb Schools students are present in class, the better they perform on tests. The more days students miss, the less likely they are to perform well.
More than a quarter of Bibb Schools students were chronically absent last school year, according to attendance data obtained by The Macon Newsroom. Chronically absent students are those who miss 10% or more of the school year.
The correlation between truancy and academic performance was a topic of discussion at Thursday’s Bibb County Board of Education meeting when the board was presented with a report on students’ performance on the Georgia Milestones test, a statewide standardized test administered each spring to measure student proficiency in subject areas.
Scores for Bibb students showed modest gains in some areas and shortfalls in others.
Though Bibb Schools’ scores are below the state’s average, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Cleveland Johnson said the peaks and valleys in performance correlate with state trends.
“We definitely have room for improvement,” and want to see more students proficient or above, Johnson said.
Johnson’s presentation included a chart illustrating the correlation between schools with low test scores and schools with high rates of student absenteeism. The slide prompted questions, concerns and comments from board members.
The district’s attendance policy, based on Georgia law, says parents or guardians are notified upon a student’s fifth unexcused absence. The penalty and consequences of such absences are outlined in the notification which states additional absences will constitute separate offenses. Prior to any judicial involvement, the district sends parents and guardians a certified letter by mail.
A parent or guardian who is convicted of violating the state’s compulsory student attendance law, a misdemeanor charge, faces a fine between $25 and $100 plus community service or up to 30 days in prison.
School board member Juawn Jackson wanted to know how the district is addressing the problem of absent students.
Superintendent of Student Achievement Jamie Cassady said meetings are scheduled for next month with school counselors and administrators to review attendance protocol and discuss creating “breakthrough teams” in which the schools would identify 20-25 kids who are chronically absent and, in 10-week long cycles, focus all efforts on ensuring their attendance.
Board member Sundra Woodford asked, “Do we know why students aren’t showing up for school?”
Cassady said there are a “vast number of reasons.”
“At the elementary school level, we just have a lot of parents that just do not value education,” he said. “When we meet with parents, it’s two fold: One is to see if there’s any barriers and if there’s any barriers, then we’ve got individuals, we’ve got partners to help us remove those barriers.Then, secondly, is to see if the law’s been broken … if we have parents who’ve just been keeping kids out.”
Board member Thelma Dillard wanted to know “how or why does a lack of interest with education in parents differ at this time than it did in previous times? Because there has pretty much been a lack of interest in education in the past, as an educator. So, why is it different now?”
Cassady said when he learns the answer, “I’m going to write a book. … That’s the million dollar question.”
The district has adapted some aspects of its approach to deal with increased student absenteeism, Cassady said. For example, social workers, who previously visited schools when called, are now stationed at certain schools on a rotating basis.
“We try to meet with parents; We try to meet them wherever they are; We try to hear what issues they may be having; We try to support them in every way possible,” he said. “But even after we give them all of the supports that we can possibly give — and all of the resources — we still have parents that do not get their kids in our schools so that we can get them in the seats so that we can see these scores increase.”
Board member Kristen Hanlon wanted to know if the district was looking at factors besides absenteeism that might contribute to disparate attendance rates among individual schools.
Johnson said the district does an analysis “to see where we can translate success across the district when it’s occurring in isolated areas.”
Board member Daryl Morton said the data he’s seen showed that some schools have “incredible challenges” with absenteeism while others “do incredibly well in making sure there’s not chronic unexcused absences.”
Morton suggested the district “please talk to” schools with low rates of student absenteeism and ask what their approaches are to getting students to show up to school.
“I don’t know how we improve scores without getting kids back in school,” Morton said. “I worry sometimes we put too much pressure on our teachers and administration, too much responsibility on them for improving these scores when, at least on the outside, it looks like to me, one of our biggest issues is we don’t have kids in school enough to learn.”
Board member James Freeman said he believes in “the carrot and the stick” and was “happy to hear” the district approaches it with both: resources/support for parents and judicial involvement.
“I hope we are including the prosecutors, the DA’s, the solicitors, whoever it is, and the judges, to make this a priority for the court system,” Freeman said. “If you do have a parent who is simply breaking the law and their kid is suffering, that’s why we have the law.”
Regarding student progress, board member Myrtice Johnson, of no relation to Cleveland Johnson, said she expected to see fewer students classified as “beginning learners” and was surprised to see an increase compared with last year.
Board member Lisa Garrett-Boyd said the district’s comparison of grade-level scores from year-to-year was like “comparing apples and oranges” because of the progressing student cohort.
“As a classroom teacher, I know we can have a group of kids one year and they’re just that group; The next year, the group’s a little better,” she said.
Speed enforcement cameras expand to elementary schools
Automated speed enforcement cameras are set to be installed outside more schools.
The devices are slated for roads on which Hartley, Herd, Heritage, Springdale and Sonny Carter elementary schools and Vineville Academy are located, Bibb County Board of Education lawyer Canon Hill said Thursday at the Bibb County Board of Education’s regular monthly meeting at its Mulberry Street board room.
The school board voted unanimously to approve an agreement with the Georgia Department of Transportation and Macon-Bibb County for operation of the cameras.
Speed enforcement cameras are currently active at nine Bibb Schools and more are planned at the Academy for Classical Education, a state charter school, and two private schools: Stratford Academy and Windsor Academy.
The school board also voted Thursday to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the county which calls for the two governing bodies to meet on an annual basis and work in a collaborative manner to identify ways to meet the district’s safety needs.
The agreement calls for Information about safety studies and funding sources to be shared with the school board on a monthly basis, or “when it’s prepared or received by Macon-Bibb,” Hill said.
In other business Thursday, the board unanimously voted to finalize the adoption of a rollback millage rate of 14.674 mills. The decision to adopt a full rollback millage rate means the district will forgo millions in property tax revenue and plan to close at least two schools over the next five years.
To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email Corley_le@mercer.edu.
This story comes to GPB through a partnership with the Macon Newsroom and the Mercer University Center for Collaborative Journalism.