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Schools stressing attendance importance

Student absences cost the Brookhaven SchoolDistrict nearly $150,000 last year and the district is on track tosee similar losses this year, school officials said.

    “Parents need to know it’s not only academically important for kidsto attend but some funding is tied to it,” said BrookhavenSuperintendent Dr. Lisa Karmacharya.

    Student absences affect funding state school districts get from theMississippi Adequate Education Program.

    In the 2011-12 school year, the Brookhaven district receivedapproximately $11.9 million from the MAEP, approximately 43 percentof the district’s 2011-12 revenue.

    In part, the MAEP formula multiplies a district’s average dailyattendance by a base student cost.

    The average daily attendance is determined by the averageattendance rate in a district during the months of October andNovember in a given school year. This October and Novemberattendance statistic includes all grades in the district.

    District records indicate Brookhaven schools saw attendance numbersduring that October/November period in 2010 ranging from 94.31percent present at Brookhaven High School in November to 97.02percent at Alexander Junior High in October.

    The Mississippi Department of Education reported the district’s2010-11 average daily attendance as 2,805.83 out of a 2010-11enrollment of 2,941.

    Those 2010-11 numbers influenced the district’s allotment of fundsfrom MAEP for the 2011-12 school year. The 2011 October/Novemberattendance rates will affect the MAEP allotment for the 2012-13school year.

    The October/November attendance numbers across all district schoolsin 2011 ranged from 92.43 percent at BHS in November to 96.46 atAlexander Junior High in October.    

    2011 saw BHS attendances rates drop for both October and Novembercompared to 2010. Elementary schools usually have higher attendancerates than high schools since high school students typically havemore responsibility for their attendance, Karmacharya said.

    More than money hangs on attendance.

    Accountability ratings also take attendance into account. Federalmodels call for schools to have average attendance rates of 93percent attendance or an attendance rate better than the previousyear, Karmacharya said.

    The district’s numbers are not out of line with attendanceexpectations.

    “Your goal is about 95 percent,” the superintendent said.

    However, Karmacharya has recently begun to place greater emphasison increasing attendance rates. In a Jan. 17 meeting with a parentand community advisory committee Karmacharya discussed theattendance issue in an effort to enlist the community as part of amovement toward increased attendance.

    “I want parents to know, in order for kids to value education theyhave to be in school,” Karmacharya said.

    Karmacharya also wants principals to develop monthly attendancegoals. Last week, Karmacharya honored the efforts of AlexanderJunior High, which saw a 2.36 percent attendance increase fromNovember to December. The school moved from a 95.5 percentattendance rate to 97.75 percent.

    Alexander’s principal, Rod Henderson, said the school’s staff hasworked to instill the value of attendance to students.

    “Basically we’re just trying to place an emphasis on the importanceof being in school and being on time,” Henderson said. “That’s thefront office down to the teachers and even the cafeteriastaff.”

    Henderson plans to roll out other initiatives soon. The school willaward students with perfect attendance records during eachnine-week term through incentives and student parties.

    He also aims to target students with less than stellar attendancerecords with most improved awards.

    For his part Assistant Police Chief Bobby Bell, one of theBrookhaven Police Department’s two truancy officers, saidattendance rates at the Brookhaven district have improved.

    “They’ve gotten a lot better over the years, no doubt,” said Bell,who has been a truancy officer more than 20 years.

    However, Bell said he still receives referrals on a dailybasis.

    State law mandates a school report any student under the compulsoryattendance age with five unexcused absences. At that stage, Bellsaid he contacts the family through a letter and a telephonecall.

    After 12 unexcused absences, Bell said the child and their parentscan be taken to youth court.

    Frequent absences can often predict future failure in school, Bellsaid.

    “If you have a child that is behind and they continue to missthey’re probably going to drop out,” Bell said.