Schmidt, pictured left, hands certificates of appreciation to RCPS's principals and assistant principals at the school board meeting on Jan. 9. Schmidt noted increased school attendance as one of their accomplishments.
High attendance rates could entitle Richmond County Public Schools (RCPS) to increased state funding.
On Jan. 10, Assistant Superintendent Sarah Schmidt gave a presentation on student attendance to the board of supervisors. In the presentation, Schmidt said that the daily number of students in school has increased over the past three years.
According to a graph that Schmidt shared with the board, attendance jumped tremendously during the 2011-12 school year, reaching 96.5 at Richmond County Elementary (RCES) and 96 percent at Rappahannock High School (RHS).
Schmidt said that the rate was unprecedented on the high school level.
Although two severe flu outbreaks have kept students at home and skewed the numbers for the current year, Schmidt assured the board that the school system will see an increase by the end of the year as “children are healthy and can stay in school.”
Schmidt informed supervisors that poor attendance rates increase the likelihood of student dropouts because they indicate that the students are disengaging from school.
“So when you have high attendance rates like ours have at the high school, it’s an indicator that our students are going to graduate on time,” Schmidt said.
She added that funding for school functions and programs are based on Average Daily Membership (ADM).
“The greater our ADM, the greater the state funding that is received,” Schmidt said.
There were three changes in principal positions at RCPS that coincided with the attendance increase in the 2011-2012 school year.
Former middle school science teacher Christina Beasley became the new assistant principal at RCES in 2010.
One year later Jason Strong joined RHS as its assistant principal while Jesse Boyd became the new principal.
In a recent interview both Beasley and Schmidt said that assistant principal techniques such as automated calls home to parents whose students are absent as well as using forms of positive reinforcement, such as ice cream parties, have contributed to the increase.
Beasley added that the principals recently revisited their policy prior to the 2011 school year and changed the point of time at which they contact parents regarding excessive absences.
“After a child misses three days, we send a letter home just to make the parent aware and say, ’Hey, your child’s missing,’” Beasley said, adding that they implement the policy with tardy days as well.
“The district is doing really good job of controlling the factors that it can control,” said Schmidt. “We’re keeping those chronic kids from becoming truant and…making early contact and that’s the key.”
Schmidt also reported that each of the assistant principals are currently working with Elizabeth Smith at Social Services through the Family Assistance Planning (FAP) team to improve student attendance.
“We look at students who are missing an unacceptable amount of days and talk with them before it gets to where they’re truant,” said Schmidt, referring to the term for when students miss 20 or more days of school.
According to Schmidt, the assistant principals have also been working with the Judges’ Best Practice group to address issues including poor attendance “in a proactive and problematic manner.”
“We’re not just one person lonely trying to call parents,” Schmidt said of administration. “We’re trying to address bigger problems with bigger solutions.”
District 3 Supervisor John Haynes congratulated Schmidt on the school system’s “great attendance.”
“It’s outstanding,” Schmidt said before crediting the school principals with the jumps in percentage.
“Our principals have been doing yeoman’s work to get these rates up like this,” she said. “So if you see them, thank them because they’ve really done an outstanding job.”