Worland school board performance on attendance impresses at state conference
December 12, 2019
WORLAND – Everything started a few years ago when Washakie County School District No. 1 Board President Don Bryant overheard a student talking to a friend in Taco Johns about how she was going to drop out of school. Bryant intervened to try and figure out what the district could do to help her graduate, and eventually he handed her a diploma when she walked through commencement exercises.
That life changing moment led Bryant to challenge teachers to make an impact in student’s lives every day, and help students in any way they can to attend class and finish on time to graduate.
Fast forward to the present, and the Worland school board is setting a new standard in attendance throughout the state of Wyoming, even being invited to the Wyoming School Board Association Annual Conference in Casper Nov. 20-22 to talk about the attendance standards set in Washakie County School District No. 1.
School board members Terri Logan, Duane Whitlock, David Tommerup, along with Worland High School Vice Principal Brian Gunderson and Superintendent David Nicholas attended the event to talk about different aspects of the attendance policy that was put in to affect three years ago at the start of the 2016-17 school year.
According to Gunderson, the policy states that after five and seven absences, a letter will be sent home with the student regarding the missed periods by the student. After the fifth absence Gunderson meets with the student and communicates directly with a parent after the seventh absent.
At 10 absences the student will have a meeting with Superintendent Nicholas, in order to find out what the real issues are and be able to help the student succeed, as well as providing the students with data and personal stories to relate more to them.
Lastly, the unique part about this policy is that the school board will meet with a student after 15 absences, in order to help them get back on the path to graduation. This is important to the school board members, as they even take time, usually during their lunch break, to come down to the district office to meet with the student.
Certain absences are not held against the students, including excused activities, sickness, and unforeseen tragedies. The absences do reset at the end of each semester.
However, sometimes it is something that is entirely out of the control of the student, and Nicholas and the school board understand that, and will try anything they can do to help the student get to class and earn a diploma.
The school board policy regarding attendance is primarily focused on helping students who are entering their final years of high school, but can be applied to any of the students at the high school level. This policy encourages students to attend school, in order to promote graduation for a better life.
“I want to emphasize that we are not just giving away diplomas,” Nicholas said. “We are being creative in meeting the needs of the children, but they have to do the work.”
The district set a recent goal of reaching a graduation rate of at least 90%, which is anticipated to be passed in 2021. The district has seen rising graduation numbers in recent years since the implementation of this policy, reaching an all-time high of 86.5% last year and this policy coupled with a motivated junior class, Nicholas and the board both believe they should reach that 90% goal in 2021.
“Those percentile points represent humans,” Nicholas said. “That’s everything.”
Whitlock presented the other school boards with statistics regarding how students who graduate high school will lead better lives if they graduate, including statistics regarding living longer (nine years longer than non-graduates), making more money ($200,000 more over a lifetime), and having more opportunities within society if they graduate.
Bryant, Nicholas and Logan all presented personal stories regarding students, and Attendance Matters bracelets, along with friendly competition between schools that have all been successes that led to the district forming this policy.
“We have kids telling their mom that they cannot miss,” Nicholas said. “They really take attendance to heart.”
Gunderson and Tommerup presented the other boards with programs that have been implemented within the district including noon study halls and after school study halls, which are all intended to help students succeed and get their work done on time and attend class more often.
Another alternative that Tommerup presented to the board was the importance of an online setting offered to students, as brick and mortar does not always work for today’s youth. This option allows students another way to learn.
One unique change that the WCSD No. 1 has made in regard to students not passing a course, is allowing a student to retake the standards that they missed in a course, rather than the student retaking the entire course during a reduced amount of time over the summer.
This can be achieved through the alternative programs that Tommerup presented to the boards, such as the after school study halls that students can attend in the winter just after the fall semester to pass a course, rather than having to wait until the summer to retake a course.
Since the presentation, Nicholas has been approached by various school districts to see if this attendance policy would work with their students, and has been very proud of how his board has reacted and implemented this policy in recent years.
“This is the best partnership I have been in with a board, that actually helps children,” Nicholas said. “I have never done anything more productive.”
The trustees, board, and school have not saved every single student from dropping out, but since this has been implemented, the board has seen significant improvements in attendance for students, and a bigger impact in student’s lives ever since Bryant overheard that one conversation from a student a few years ago.