As I complete my first year as the principal of Montezuma-Cortez High School, I have found myself reflecting upon some of the things I have learned. I have served as an elementary/preschool principal, a middle school teacher and now as a high school principal.
In each of these three very different positions, I have noticed that one factor is universally constant with my most successful students, and that is great school attendance.
Research tells us that school attendance is one of the single biggest factors in determining the success of our students. The average student in the high school attends school only around 90 percent of possible school days. If we received this percentage on a test, we would envision the “A” that would be written on our paper. In terms of attendance, however, this percentage is actually quite unsatisfactory.
Imagine a student who attends school nine out of 10 days. This student is consistently missing one day of school every two weeks, or two days each month. If this student continues this pattern from kindergarten through 10th grade, he or she will have missed 176 days of school — more than an entire school year! Often we see something so small as a couple days a month and think, “No big deal.” But by thinking this we are missing the big picture of what is happening to our students.
How can we be surprised if our students are often below grade level when our average student misses this huge amount of school? Given this startling realization, the district has made school attendance a priority for the upcoming school year by launching the “Be Present” campaign. This campaign will set a goal of getting our average attendance rate over 95 percent. It will take a concerted effort by the schools, families and the community to achieve this goal.
As a school district, it will be our charge to engage students in their education. It is our responsibility to keep students excited about coming to school. Often, with the pressure put on education we forget that we are educating kids! When they lose motivation they will not learn and will not want to come to school. Therefore, we accept the challenge to make learning a thrill in the hopes of keeping our students excited to come to school.
We also accept the challenge of communicating with the families who are struggling with good school attendance. Often families do not realize the importance of making education a priority, and don’t recognize the impact of missing just a few days each month. We hope that our efforts will allow our students to experience more success in school.
But make no mistake — families will play the biggest role in the success of this endeavor. We ask that parents plan their family schedule around the district academic calendar. It is important to recognize that if students attend school every day possible (165 days), this still allows families 200 days each year to attend to their family’s needs. We would like parents to treat school days as sacred time that is never scheduled over.
We recognize that making school a top priority can be difficult. Often, my own kids wake up and want to stay home because they don’t feel so well or are just plain tired.
But I believe that every day is important, and this helps me to remain strong and committed to sending my children to school every day possible. Never letting up on this sends a clear message to my children: “There is nothing more important than being at school.”
If your student already has a great attendance record, it is my pleasure to say, “Thank you and great job!” Your student has established a habit that will lead to success in college and in their careers.
If it has been a struggle to routinely get your student to school, I ask that you redouble your efforts. Call your school principal and work together to determine how to overcome the barriers to great school attendance.
Thank you for committing to be present! I can’t wait until every family in our community looks forward to report card day, because their child experienced success in school and it continued throughout their life. Remember — every day counts!
Jason Wayman is principal of Montezuma-Cortez High School.