Area officials look at truancy during statewide dropout summit

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Schools and law enforcement agencies need to do more to address truancy, local school officials said Monday during a statewide summit to address dropout rates.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education invited 114 districts with a dropout rate of four percent or higher to participate in the event. Counselors and administrators participated in a video simulcast from 22 locations throughout the state. Participants listened to presentations about different education practices, asked questions and discussed issues locally.

Five districts -- Ste. Genevieve, Perryville, Jackson, Cape Girardeau and Charleston -- participated in the summit from the University of Missouri extension office in Jackson.

Counselors and administrators talked about the effect of early intervention to keep at-risk students from dropping out of school. Local conversations centered on establishing attendance practices early so students do not fall behind in reading.

Administrators said parents are often the barrier because they do not enforce school attendance policies or stress the importance of education.

"That's an adult issue, but it continues as a kid pattern," said Dr. Mike Cowan, Cape Girardeau Central High School principal.

Roy Merideth, Cape Girardeau Junior High School principal, said the juvenile system is stretched thin. He said county officials do not have enough resources and are not effective in addressing truancy issues.

"We can all tell you horror stories about kids who have missed 80-plus days of school," Merideth said.

Mark Cook, Jefferson Elementary School principal, said he wants to work with the United Way Education Solutions Team to create and fund a position to enforce attendance policies throughout the elementary schools. The team, made up of school, university, community and church officials, started meeting in February to address the graduation rate in the Cape Girardeau School District.

"I think there has to be a message sent by the district," Cook said. Parents need to be aware of the repercussions of disregarding attendance policies, he said.

Cook said he makes home visits about three to five times a week to talk with parents about attendance, health and discipline problems. Adding a district position would be a step toward helping the problem, but not the complete solution, he said.

"That person would be spread mighty thin through all the elementary schools," Cook said.

The Education Solutions Team, will hold its third meeting at 7 a.m. today in the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center.

abusch@semissourian.com

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