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Hudson - Litchfield News September 24, 2010 - 9


Hudson’s Attendance Policy Encourages Communication by Maureen Gillum


This is the second of two articles addressing the changes in Hudson’s new, district-wide school attendance policy. Part one, “Hudson’s New Truancy Policy,” published in the Hudson~Litchfield News (9/10/10, pg. 1), provided an overview of the issues, implementation and objectives of Hudson’s new truancy policy. This follow- up offers frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the new policy, largely driven from initial community response and questions. Hudson’s new policy, rolled out in late


August, was largely championed by the Drop Out Task Force (DOTF) district-wide team, co-chaired by Laura Bisson, Hudson School Board, and Irene Sousa, Director of Special Services. The new policy is based on the premise that school attendance is critical to successful school performance


and follows the DOTF’s mantra, “every day matters and every minute counts at school.” The new policy is also largely mandated by state laws, like New Hampshire’s House Bill 154 (7/10), and is backed by major national education initiatives—all trying to improve education, keep kids in school, and curtail dropout rates (DORs).


In short, the new Hudson School Board attendance policy now defines truancy as five days (or 10 half-days) of unexcused absences, instead of the 20 previously allowed. Further, the policy defines “excused” and “unexcused” absences, includes a five-day documentation provision, and provides a series of four stepped interventions (at five, eight, 12, and 15 days), as previously detailed in part one (see HLN, 9/10/10, pg. 1) and on the


FAQs on Hudson’s New Attendance Policy (By the Hudson School Board, September 2010)


1. What constitutes a documented illness? For routine illnesses, a parental note upon the student’s return is generally considered


appropriate documentation. Students are not expected to be taken to the doctor or have a doctor’s note for routine illnesses. However, each principal has discretion to require documentation from a doctor for those cases where a pattern exists that suggests that this policy is being abused. 2. Why can’t I take a family vacation outside of the scheduled school vacations? School calendars (www.sau81.org), detailing the 180-day school year, are printed and available well in advance of the next school year. At the same time, compulsory attendance laws and truancy laws require that students be in school. Given these circumstances, only in very extreme cases will such absences be considered excused. 3. How will the school district communicate with us when there is a problem? The district has adopted a new attendance procedure with a series of four preventative stepped


interventions, as detailed on the district Website (www.sau81.org). At step one, a parent/guardian will be notified by the school’s guidance department when their child has five unexcused absences in a school year. At eight unexcused absences, you will be notified again by an administrator of the school to discuss the absences. When a student reaches 12 days absent from school, the School Resource Officer will contact you and the student regarding their absence. When a student has had 15 unexcused absences, your child is considered truant and the Hudson School District will file a ChINS (Child in Need of Services) petition with the court system.


Alvirne High School and Hudson Memorial School will use the Alert Now notification system when a student is absent from school and has not been called in sick. All elementary schools will place a call to the parent/guardian for any child who is not in school and has not been called in sick. (It is also critical for families to keep their contact information up to date with the school). It is important to let your child’s school know that your child will be absent. All parents are


asked to send in a note upon the return of your child to the school. 4. Why was this policy adopted? The Hudson School Board and Administration team is dedicated to students staying in school and successfully graduating. Research proves attendance patterns as early as grade three are key predictors of future dropouts. School attendance is critical to successful school performance, which highly correlates with on-time graduation. The main purpose of this new K-12 policy is to increase school success and reduce Hudson’s current 8.9-percent dropout rate. Further, recently revised state truancy laws (HB 154) have added urgency and legal backing to the district’s commitment to such goals. This is one of several major initiatives the district’s DOTF is rolling out this year. 5. How can I communicate my ideas or concerns to the school district? The district encourages communication and engagement with parents and the Hudson community. The school district’s Website (www.sau81.org) lists the name and number of your School Board members, as well as district policies, meeting agendas, times, and minutes. Superintendent Randy Bell welcomes your inquiries or ideas by phone at 886-1235 or e-mail (rbell@sau81.org). 6. Will there be future public meetings on this policy? Yes, the Hudson School Board will be hosting a fall information night (date TBD) at Hills Memorial Library. This will be the first in a series of public forums dealing with significant issues and ideas facing the district and another avenue to strengthen a partnership between families and schools.


In addition, schools are addressing the new attendance policy during parent nights or hosting special parent meetings. For example, Alvirne High School invites parents to come next Wednesday, September 29 (7 p.m., AHS café), to discuss and clarify Hudson’s new truancy policy.


“We fully expect every student to have some unexcused absences during the course of the school year. It is when these absences become excessive that there is cause for concern,” explained Mary-Ellen LaBrie, Assistant Principal, Dr. H.O. Smith and Library Street Schools, at the school’s parent night last Thursday. The administrator also assured parents that parental notes for illnesses will typically count as an excused absence, and family vacations and emergencies will be “reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”


Nottingham West Elementary School (NWES) office assistant Pat Maglio, who manages attendance, shared that “with just 13 days of school, it may be too early to tell.” However, she is already seeing “better communication” by way of more notes and phone calls into school, which had too often become quite lax. “The clearer, district-wide policy and state laws eliminate the gray areas,” stated Maglio. “By getting on it [truancy issues] sooner,” we’re now also emphasizing “prevention,” which she believes will also “have a positive impact.” NWES Principal Peter Durso concurred—


“We’re seeing an increase in parent and district communication” and “people are more mindful” of kids being in school. The long-time principal also identified “a shift” in “more balanced responsibilities and expectations” between parents and schools. “We can’t do our jobs – teach our students 180 days a year – unless parents make sure their kids are in school as much as possible,” affirmed Durso. While Alvirne High School Principal Bryan Lane also cautioned that “It’s still too early to tell,” he agreed he’s also seen “a greater sense of


awareness [regarding attendance] among students and parents” and a “decrease in tardiness.” He also noted there is still some confusion around the new attendance policy, especially around excused and unexcused absences and making up work for credit. Lane shared that AHS is hosting a special parent meeting next Wednesday, September 29, at 7 p.m. in the Alvirne cafeteria “to help everyone get through and better understand the changes in terminology and perceptions regarding the new attendance policy.” “The Hudson School District is committed to partnering with families to provide your child the best education possible,” LaBrie stated, emphasizing communication and collaboration. “Keeping us informed of situations pertinent to your family will allow us to work together to make the most of your child’s educational experience.” Hudson’s new, stricter truancy policy is expected to build communication, improve K-12 school attendance, and reduce excessive tardiness and early dismissals this year. Long-term, the DOTF’s ultimate goals behind the policy are to improve student achievement and drastically reduce Hudson’s dropout rate, from 8.9 percent currently to one percent, within the next three to five years.


“Our hope with this new attendance policy, and other imminent School Board initiatives, is to open up communications, engage parents and students more, and build the crucial partnership between our families and schools,” concluded Superintendent Bell. “By starting conversations and working together, we can create the cultural changes needed to positively impact education and achieve our challenging objectives.”


Obedience to School Crossing Guards


Now that school is back in session, you will be seeing the crossing guards at certain intersections in town. Their job is to facilitate the safe crossing of students. They also will assist with traffic in and out of certain intersections. The following law applies to obedience of the crossing guards. RSA 265:3-a Obedience to School Crossing Guards


I The driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any school crossing guard invested with authority to direct, control, or regulate traffic. If the school crossing guard is displaying a signal to stop, the driver of a vehicle upon a way shall stop the vehicle at least 25 feet before reaching such school


crossing guard. The driver shall not proceed until the school crossing guard indicates that traffic may proceed and until the driver can do so safely.


II Any person who violates the provisions of this section shall be fined not more than $100 for the first offense and not more than $250 for any subsequent offense committed during any calendar year. Please drive carefully, and if you commute on one of the roads controlled by a crossing guard, please be conscious of them as you approach. Reduce your speed in the event you will have to stop.


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district’s Website (www.sau81.org). Hudson Superintendent Randy Bell re- emphasized that the new attendance policy “isn’t aimed at the majority of Hudson families who take attendance seriously. Principally, we are addressing the minority of at risk-students and habitual offenders who are too frequently absent and tardy.” Like any widespread change, the new


policy has created some confusion, controversy, and a few thumbs down, especially around unexcused absences, as expected. District headquarters shared they received about three dozen phone calls from parents, primarily with “clarifications and concerns around family vacations and illnesses.” For this reason, the Hudson School Board offered their FAQs regarding school attendance.


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