Parent-excused absences said a big problem at LHS

LACONIA — High School administrators reported last night that from 2011 to 2013 the number of students who were truant or absent from school without a reason has dropped by nearly 50 percent.

In 2011 the district reported 1003 truancies while in 2013 there were 456.

Administrators told the School Board last night that positive interventions and improving the school culture were some of the leading reasons for the improvements in attendance.

As to the number of students who needed to be disciplined, the number of out-of-school suspensions dropped from 72 in 2011 to 52 in 2013. The number of in-school suspensions had also dropped from 364 in 2011 to 203 in 2013.

Administrators said they added an administrative detention period in 2013 as well as a student support system that helped 535 students overcome some issues that they were having either in school, at home, or otherwise.

"It's all about climate, culture and consistency," said Principal Jim McCollum who took over as high school principal in the 2012-2013 school year.

McCollum said the biggest problem facing the high school right now is excused absences and those are more difficult to control. In 2013 there were 2,596 excused absences.

For the purposes of record keeping, and excused absence is defined as a student missing one or more blocks of school with parental consent or a student that is more than one-half hour late for school again with parental consent.

He said that if a parent calls the school and notifies it that their son or daughter will be absent or late, then there's not much the school can do about it.

McCollum said the part of the positive behavior intervention system at the school constantly reinforces the notion that a student has to show up in order to be productive.

He said statistics show that overall a student who misses six or fewer days in a school year will have a grade point average of 3.3 or higher. A grade point average declines as the number of absences — excused or unexcused — increases.
"It's what we hear from employers and it what we hear from the community college. You have to show up," McCollum said.

Commenting from the audience, retired civics teacher Richard Coggin said that was the best presentation he's heard in about five years.

Coggin called out some of the existing board members for letting good attendance records slide and and disciplinary incidents increase under the administration of former Principal Steve Beals.

Long-time member Joe Cormier said he didn't necessary agree with Coggin stating that his view was "skewed."

However Coggins assessment got a back-handed approval from the newest board member Mike Perssons, who said that the recent increase in the number of programs and academic offerings as well as the leadership of the current administrative team at the high school have made a big difference in the truancy and discipline issues.