High School has seen big improvements in attendance thanks to new effort

by: PHOTO BY JEFF SPIEGEL - Vice Principal Ryan Carpenter was a classroom teacher for the past three years and among the biggest problems he saw was the inconsistent attendance. This year he has made it his goal to improve attendance school-wide in hopes of improving the school€sˇÃ„öˆsˇÑˆsˇˆ‚€sˇÃ Ã¶ˆsˇÃ«€sˇÃ Ã¶¬•s graduation rate.When Vice Principal Ryan Carpenter saw Estacada High School’s graduation rate, he and the rest of the staff knew there was room for improvement. The question was, what technique or vehicle would get them where they wanted to be.

For Carpenter, the answer was simple: improve attendance.

So with a renewed focus on making sure kids are in class, Carpenter has made it his goal to increase school attendance across the board, and just weeks into the school year, his plan is working.

“We want to improve our graduation rate and our vehicle is going to be making sure kids are in class,” he said. “We think we have good teachers here, and so we want our kids to spend time with those teachers. My job is to monitor attendance and find the students who are at risk of dropping out.”

Carpenter acknowledges that the school made a concerted effort to improve attendance five to six years ago, but with a number of other changes across campus, the emphasis eventually wore down.

Among the major changes was the switch from a traditional teaching model to a proficiency-based model. This year, with an emphasis still on the proficiency model, Carpenter has insisted an emphasis be placed on attendance.

Over the summer, Carpenter and other front office members of the school met with other local schools and administrators to ask about what they were doing and what was working.

With research completed, Carpenter’s new plan almost seems too simple: follow up with kids who weren’t at school. The crazy part is, it’s working.

“We get a printout of all of the kids with unexcused absences,” he said. “And I go over the list and meet with each kid and contact their parents. The benefit is that they see the staff looking into the reason for their absence, but it also improves communication between kids and parents.”

In Carpenter’s eyes, there are three typical reasons a kid was marked absent:

* A mistake, the student was sick or the student was actually skipping school. In the case of a mistake or a sick student, the problem is usually corrected rather quickly with a conversation with parents or teachers.

Now seven weeks into the year, however, the students who fall into the third and final category have already been identified and have learned the consequences.

For students who miss half of a day of school, they’re given lunch detention, while students who miss more than a half day receive a two-hour detention. For Carpenter, however, the focus isn’t on these punishments, but on the successes that have come about because of the renewed emphasis.

“Our attendance rate is up to 96.6 percent, which is 12 percent higher than last October,” he said. “And the fact that we’re focusing on it means no kids are falling through the cracks.”

What Carpenter has also learned is that the kids who are typically at risk of not graduating are actually the ones who need the attention they’re receiving.

“I’m finding out more and more that these kids need more attention and that it’s good to give them that and let them know that people care about them,” he said.

As part of that idea, Carpenter has helped cultivate a CARE team that consists of counselors and administrators from throughout the school.

If a student misses eight and a half days of school during a four-week period, they’re legally identified as truant and can be fined up to $500 as a Class C violation.

After four days of unexcused absences, however, the CARE team flags the student and the team does its best to correct the behavior.

“So far, the CARE team has worked with 13 students, and five of the 13 are back in good academic standing,” Carpenter said. “Ultimately, we’re less than two months in, and we’re noticing an improvement in the overall student body environment. Even our behavior referrals are down.”

While Carpenter is of course proud of the school’s achievements thus far, the feeling extends all the way into the teachers and students as well.

“The most obvious change is that there are more and more kids in seats,” English teacher Jeff Mellema said. “I’ve noticed the recognition on the students’ parts that they have a responsibility to be here and that they will be held accountable.”

For counselor Debbie Brochis, the feelings are similar.

“The kids have bought in,” she said. “I even see kids scurrying to class where as it used to be casual as if they didn’t care if they were late. The buy-in with kids is that they know we’ll meet them halfway because Ryan (Carpenter) is visible and encouraging them to be stakeholders in this.

“I’ve been here 25 years and I’ve never seen progress like this.”

For students, it seems the threat of punishment is the biggest motivator for being in the classroom.

“There’s a stricter punishment for being late,” junior Bryce Babikoff said. “I know a number of friends who got lunch detentions, and that motivates them to be on time to class now.”

In 2011, Estacada saw a graduation rate of just 69 percent, but Carpenter’s goal this year is to increase that to 75 percent.

“I strongly believe in our teachers, so my job is just to get the kids in class,” he said. “Our freshman class has an attendance rate of 98.1 percent right now, so if we can be consistent with this for four years, I think we’ll see some incredible results.”

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