PAYETTE - Developing a “culture of regular attendance” has been a major focus for the Payette School District throughout the 2019-20 school year, with Superintendent Robin Gilbert bringing up the matter at the Board of Trustees’ monthly meetings. To give those present at the Feb. 10 meeting more of an idea of what progress has been made, Gilbert invited Payette High School Dean of Students intern Matt Allison to detail the state of progress.
“I believe we’re seeing a culture shift,” Allison told those present. “We’re changing the way we function as a high school.”
Allison, who is also working to complete his Education Specialist (Ed. S.) degree through the University of Idaho, discussed increasing rigor and measuring student achievement. The district says it aims to reduce missing assignments, raise classroom grades and increase attendance, improving student learning as a result.
Using Payette High as an example, Allison’s data suggests the district’s efforts are working:
• Overall attendance for fall 2019 was 94.2%, compared to 91% the previous year. The district has a goal of 96%.
• Total class absences for the fall semester were 5,340 compared to 7,069 absences for the same period in 2018. There were 1,100 more excused absences in fall 2019 than in 2018 (2,357 vs 1,257), but unexcused absences were down by approximately half (2,983 in 2019; 5,812 in 2018).
• More than 500 fewer tardies were reported in fall 2019 than in fall 2018, as a result of the implementation of a tardiness intervention.
• Students who are chronically absent have meetings with administration and intervention strategies are put in place to help improve their own attendance rates.
‘Seeing great growth’ in chronically absent students
Interventions put in place focus on finding out what’s causing students to have trouble getting to school, helping students establish morning and evening routines that allow them to show up on time, incentivizing good attendance (usually through school-wide programs), helping with finding transportation, regular check-ins with administration and home visits.
Allison said he has met with every student identified as chronically absent in the 2018-19 school year to help them improve.
“I’ve met with them on regular occasion … at least once a month, and I think we’re seeing great growth in that group of students.”
Per District Policy, students have to attend 90% of scheduled school days in order to be considered for credit for classes. In kindergarten through eighth grade, students can’t miss more than four days per quarter. For high school – since Payette High runs a block schedule where students take each class every other day – students can’t miss more than four days per class per semester.
The district is also working to improve attendance through maintenance of safe and supportive schools. Efforts to ensure safe and collaborative school cultures are in place include:
• Use of data to evaluate current status of campus climates
• Reporting student discipline data twice a year, to inform the Board on effectiveness of current rules and procedures
• Use of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) framework to figure out what needs to be improved and how
• Investing in school wide professional development focusing on school culture, PBIS and restorative justice practices.
“We’ve had some honest conversation with students, and they appreciate the structure,” Allison said. “Sometimes it’s difficult being in the hot seat, but by-and-large students think it’s appropriate that we’re holding them accountable.”
Allison highlighted the role the district’s new dress code and personal electronics policies play into.
In terms of student behavior, data suggests students are minding their P’s and Q’s more; In September, the average number of referrals to administration by teachers was approximately 14 per day. In December and January, that number hovered around just five per day. He also said 94% of Payette High students have no more than one major referral. In addition, one statistic that stood out to Gilbert was the number of physical fights this school year: Just three.
Allison notes that while previous fight data was unavailable for the report, this year a new system is in place to track incidents such as fights.
The report also notes that administration is working with students who have repeat offenses to problem-solve and ensure the students have a better spring semester.
“I have identified … twenty-five students; I’m going to start working with them to try and meet their needs, so we’re not having these office discipline referrals, trying to figure out what’s triggering these students to act out in class,” said Allison.
New signage is already in place at the schools, helping students learn what truancy is to the district and reminding them of their duty to show up and learn.
“We’re just really trying to educate our students,” said Allison.