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Our View: Be there for the school bell

It's the first step to success in work, play, relationships and school: You have to show up.

That's the straightforward message coming from the Anchorage School District during the first weeks of the 2012-13 school year.

In his Compass piece on this page, schools Superintendent Jim Browder points out the simple truth that improvement in grades, test scores and graduation rates can't happen without regular attendance. And as he also points out, a 90 percent attendance rate isn't a stringent requirement. That number still allows for plenty of absences for sickness, special trips, unforeseen circumstances.

In the last few weeks, Anchorage schools have had open houses and parent nights to let families know what the expectations are and to get parents more aware and involved in their kids' education.

At Romig Middle School, parents followed their students' class schedules and spent 10 minutes with each teacher. That was a fast school day -- and an encouraging one. Teachers came across as engaged, excited about teaching the kids and promising parents that their students will know a lot more next May than they do this September.

That's if they show up.

That's why Romig principal Sven Gustafson tempered a warm welcome with a no-nonsense heads up. School officials will be keeping close track of absences, and the rules for excused absences will be tougher. They will expect a call and a good reason for absences.

He gave an example -- don't call in because Grandma has come to visit for two weeks and this is her first day here and the kids haven't seen her and we're keeping them out of school for the day. That, he said, won't cut it. By all means welcome Grandma, but do it after school.

The idea isn't to become the truancy police, but to drive home the need to make school a priority, not just one of several options on any given day. And that priority begins at home. If students get the message on the home front that their first job during the school year is learning, that makes the education that goes on for six hours or more every day that much more effective.

As Browder has said, our public schools can do tremendous things for our children, open doors to a treasure of learning and possibilities. But all the dedicated teachers, high-tech gear and well-stocked libraries can't do a thing for the kids who are absent.

Schools stand ready to help families struggling to get their kids to classes. It can be tough; there's a reason for the old saying that showing up is half the battle.

The battle is worthwhile. If students show up, it's a safe bet they will learn. If students don't, it's a sure bet they won't.

BOTTOM LINE: Want better educated kids? First make sure they get to school.