Educating kids starts with attendance

Jim Browder

The first days back to school are always exciting. For weeks on end, kids have been waiting in anticipation to become students again. Here at ASD, we are excited and happy to be teaching your children this year. We hope that we'll get to see them each and every school day.

There has been a lot of talk recently about an effort to increase attendance in our schools. The bottom line is this: if you can get your child to school every day, we can guarantee they'll get a great education.

The Anchorage School Board and I recently laid out a new multi-year comprehensive education plan, called Destination 2020. By the year 2020, the plan calls for at least 90 percent student proficiency in reading, writing and math, at least a 90 percent graduation rate, and each student attending school a minimum of 90 percent of the time.

Overall, our student achievement scores are not where we want them to be. We know we can do better. The first step in making that happen is to make sure children are in school.

A 90 percent attendance rate means that a student cannot miss more than 17 days of school through the course of the year. That may seem like a lot at first glance, but only about half of our high school seniors currently meet that target. In fact, last year, our highest attendance level came from the fifth-grade, and even then, only 82 percent of fifth-graders missed 17 or fewer days of school.

I think you'll agree, it is difficult to educate children who do not attend school. We've seen students' attitudes drastically change when they return after missing school because they are not familiar with what is happening in class or how to participate. Students are not motivated to be engaged when they aren't part of the group process. Important instructional time is lost when a student has to be reintegrated into the classroom projects.

As educators, we spend a lot of time with your children each day. This time is packed with educational opportunities where staff knows that every minute counts. But we can't educate children alone, and we are asking for your help. Parents are the primary and most important educators a child, has and learning shouldn't stop when class lets out for the day.

We encourage you to let your child know that education and regular school attendance is important. If circumstances in your life are affecting your child's attendance, please come and talk to us. Your child's principal and school staff can offer advice and support. We've worked with a lot of families to help them come up with solutions that work for them. We can also connect families with others in the community who can provide services and assistance as needed.

Instilling the importance of school attendance in children is a community issue. It's about every grade level, every parent, every citizen and this community as a whole focusing on that.

Set examples and expectations for your children. Children thrive from routines. Make it a routine to get them a good night's rest, a good meal and get them to school on time every day. You'll see their academics improve because of it. We thank you for it -- and someday, they'll thank you for it as well.

Jim Browder is superintendent of the Anchorage School District.