Consistent school attendance critical to learning

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As we quickly work our way deeper into the second semester of school, I want to discuss core values in our school district and the link between our community and the school system.

In Whitefish Schools, we have continued working on universal expectations for our students as part of our multi-tiered systems of support. These expectations are unique to each school, but are similar in their messaging and build upon each other as students grow.

At Muldown Elementary we emphasize three areas: be kind, be safe, and work hard. With the move to Whitefish Middle School in fifth grade, we build on these expectations and emphasize the values of responsibility, respect, honesty, and kindness. At the high school, we highlight daily expectations of personal responsibility and respect, in addition to integrity, compassion, and scholarship.

As always, we ask for the help of parents and community members to model these values. The link between home, community, and school is critical to create good citizens.

One area where we need more support is for students to attend school more consistently. Chronic absenteeism is defined as students who miss more than 10 percent of school for non-school related absences, whether excused or unexcused. Our chronic absenteeism data is far too high with 500 of our 1,700 students identified as being absent 10 percent or more of the time, with 100 students missing 20 percent or more of school days.

As you can imagine, if you compound this over time for the 180-day school year, at 10 percent absenteeism, a student would miss an entire year of school over a decade. We are working together to identify new strategies to help change this trend under the “Graduation Matters Whitefish” program led by high school assistant principal, Jackie Fuller.

In addition to chronic absenteeism, another major area of focus for Graduation Matters Whitefish is “My Student in Need.” This is a program that has been building across Montana as a way for both the schools and the community to help meet the basic needs of students — whether it is clothing, warm winter wear, or even things like Halloween costumes or prom dresses. We want to support our kids with important items they may not have access to based on their family’s resources.

Staff members at each school will help identify student needs and one staff member at each school will serve as the point of contact. Needed items will be identified for community members to help while maintaining the privacy of our students in need. As we build this program, requests for help will be listed at www.mystudentinneed.com and publicized in local media and other communications.

Nearly 40 percent of the school year is left, but it always seems to accelerate as we approach spring. I want to encourage everyone to finish the school year strong and make smart choices. It will be graduation before we know it!

Working with our community to help meet the needs of our students in a wide variety of areas is one of the main reasons our school system is so successful. Whitefish Schools are amazing because of the community and the Whitefish community is enriched because of our schools — it is such a symbiotic relationship. Thank you for helping us continue to build a strong foundation for our children and community.

Heather Davis Schmidt is the superintendent of Whitefish Schools.

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