Wednesday marks the fall Count Day in Michigan schools. It’s a sort of census that helps the state determine how much per pupil funding it gives to local districts.
WKAR Education Reporter Kevin Lavery talks with one local school leader about the importance of Count Day. Dr. Nicole Beard is the principal at Riddle Elementary in Lansing.
In Lansing, the message that we want to send to our families is that we want your kids in school every day, not just on Count Day. We use Count Day as a fun way to just remind families that your presence is needed, and we want to have as much funding as possible to do the things for your children that we would like to do.
Is it physically a head count?
It is; we really count our children. It’s something that we do at the beginning of the year, when we take attendance every day, when we do our fire drills, we always want to have a pulse on how many children are in the building and in our classrooms.
Do you have issues with chronic absenteeism?
Yes, we do. We try to mitigate those situations and circumstances that prevent children from coming to school, such as transportation, lack of clothing; maybe they need a charger for their cell phone, maybe they need an alarm clock. So we really try to connect with our families.
One of the nice things about our district is that we have district-wide bussing. So, regardless of where you live within the Lansing school district boundaries, you can pretty much go to any school that you desire to go to, and the district will provide transportation as long as you fill out the documentation. So, we try and we recognize as a district that attendance can be a challenge, so we do everything we can to help families prevent their children from not coming to school.
How does that translate into getting every penny you deserve to put towards the maximum educational experience you can give these children?
We can take this back to our school improvement plan. We know that we want to improve academic achievement, and we know the children have to be here in order for them to learn. So one of the things we do is we make daily attendance phone calls. And when we know that parents have chronic attendance issues, we’re even willing to call them in and sit them down and help them understand how vital this is to the academic process. Sometimes, people are just living life and they don’t realize that three or four or five absences do make a difference; it does impact student learning. So, it’s our job to help families understand that children need to be in school to learn.
I have noticed already since we’ve been more diligent with our attendance phone calls and supporting our families, right now our attendance rate is at 93 percent. We want to be at 95 percent or higher. So, we’re really excited about that, and that’s simply from just meeting with our children every day. We make contact with our children three times a day just to see how they’re doing. (We ask) “How’s your day going? What book did you read at the end of the day?” That’s a way to encourage children to come to school, because they want to share what they read yesterday, what they did yesterday. We’re investing in personal relationships with our students, which will encourage them. As you know, sometimes a child can just help support and push parents to get them to school.
What happens if not all of your kids are there on Count Day? Is there an opportunity for them to be counted later?
Yes...if children come to school within a certain time frame after Count Day, we can still count those children. If I understand correctly, if it’s an excused absence within 30 days, things of that nature...there’s an opportunity for us to still count those children.
How is your school year going so far?
We’re doing pretty well. Again, our attendance rate is up, our parents are being more proactive when their children are not going to be here. There’s just a nice calm in the school. Learning is taking place; it’s been a great start to the school year.