School board approves option to improve attendance

Thursday, December 14, 2006
Melanie Bowen, Greencastle, watches as her son Will decorates his gingerbread cookie at Gingerbread Storytime at the Putnam County Public Library Thursday. During storytime, Children's Librarian Suzanne Hall read the "Gingerbread Man" book and several other cookie books. The gingerbread men and the houses on display were created by Area 30 Culinary Arts students.

Going to school can get students at Greencastle High School out of taking their final exams.

In an effort to increase student attendance, Greencastle High School officials have worked out a plan to reward students who have two or fewer absences in a class period. Those students can choose to opt-out of the semester exam for that class.

As Principal Jim Church and Counselor Shannon Fritz presented to the Greencastle School Board Wednesday, the no exam option is an attack on the school's declining attendance rate, and will hopefully have a positive effect on discipline and graduation rates.

For the last five years, Fritz said, attendance has decreased at the high school, and the school has been below the state average for the last two years. A committee of educators has been working on ways to turn that trend around, and they came up with the test option.

"In looking at incentives," Fritz said, "we didn't want to come up with just another policy. We wanted to find a way to reward students who were achieving expectations, and then provide an incentive to make students try harder."

Looking at the attendance trend for the first nine weeks of the current school year, Fritz said students also had about 1,200 tardies recorded by 900 students.

The third draft of the policy presented to school board members Jack Berry, Mike Dean, Monica Fennell, Barry Fisher and Mark Kannowski stated that students who miss two or fewer days, with two tardies to a class equaling one absence, will be eligible to opt-out of a final exam if the student has a passing semester grade prior to the final.

Some absences will not count toward the two "opt out" absences -- field trips, college visits, funeral, poll worker and General Assembly page.

The policy allows students three options.

* They can attend school and take the final, but the final will be counted only if it helps the student's semester grade.

* They can attend school and not take the final. But if they opt out, they must either attend the class and use the final exam time to study for another final, or participate in a school-organized service project.

* Or, they can be absent from the final because of a prearranged absence such as job shadowing, college visits, or a community service project. Students wanting to take a prearranged absence must complete a form five days prior to the final and have a parent signature.

Fritz called the proposal a pilot program, in that adjustments will likely be made through trial and error.

"This is not about getting them out of something," she said. "It's about empowering the students. It's about giving them some power over their school day."

Through the computerized attendance program, staff can run reports to see which students are eligible for the opt-out. Fritz said she looked at the number of students who would have been eligible for the program at the end of the first nine week grading period, and about 400 would have been offered the option. By the end of the semester, an estimated 300 students would have been eligible.

The board approved the program, which will be in effect for the spring semester final exams.

Principal Church said a school committee is also looking at other positive incentives for students.

In personnel matters, the board approved:

* Leaves of absence for Diana Callahan, Deborah Rode, Vicki Tedlock, and Heather Whitaker.

* Erin Dahl as a substitute for the Callahan leave during parts of the first and second semester.

* Dorothy Crawley as a substitute for the Rode leave.

* Carlos Hawkins as a substitute bus driver.

* A transfer for Laurie Davis Reeves from substitute to full-time bus driver.

* Donna Nicholas substitute bus driver.

* The resignation of Andrea Moore as middle school custodian.

* The resignation of Jyme McCammack as high school cafeteria assistant.

* A transfer for Kathy Wilson from cafeteria assistant to custodian.

* Hiring Connie Warren as cafeteria assistant at the high school.

In other business, the board:

* Accepted a $500 grant from Vectren Bright Ideas for middle school science teacher Stacie Stoffregen.

* Approved a $500 grant from Vectren Bright Ideas for high school science teacher Brad Kingma.

* Approved an overnight field trip to Scottsburg by the high school wrestling team from Dec. 26-28.

* Learned Julie Carr, a second grade teacher at Deer Meadow, has been nominated for Indiana State University's Outstanding Teacher Award.

* Saw in the financial report that all funds have healthy balances, except for the capital projects fund. However, Supt. Robert Green said the deficit in that account will be made up when the final December tax draw is received.

* Reviewed and accepted bids for new school buses, which were the same price as the bids from last year.

* Granted permission for middle and high school students to participate in the annual survey by the Indiana Institute for Drug Abuse Prevention.

* Approved end-of-year fund transfers with a final report of those moves to come in January.

* Agreed that in case county property tax collections are delayed in the spring, funds can be borrowed in the spring for cash flow purposes. Green said that as long as tax draws are received on time, there should be no need to borrow.

* Granted permission for several obsolete technology items to be declared of no value so they can be eliminated.

The Greencastle School Board regularly meets at 7:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at the Miller Education Center, 522 Anderson St. The next public meeting will be Jan. 10.

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