District announces attendance initiative
Ken McLemore, Hope Public Schools

HOPE – An initiative to reduce student absenteeism across the Hope Public School District was rolled out for the Hope Public Schools Board here Monday night.

HPS Superintendent Bobby Hart said the plan calls for 70 percent of HPSD students having five or less absences per semester by the end of the 2016-2017 school year.

“We, like many other schools, battle non-attendance,” Hart said. “And, attitudes toward attendance vary from parent to parent and household to household; we are going to strive for good attendance.”

He said the 70 percent figure is a “lofty goal” but noted that the district needed to think in loftier terms.

The plan is based, in part, upon similar initiatives which have been successfully implemented in larger, urban school districts. It is tied, in part, to producing awareness of the relationship between education and future earnings potential, as reflected in research from the Arkansas Resource Center.

That study drew information from some 69,515 Arkansans whose earnings levels were tied to educational attainment by 2006.

“Within five years, average wages among the group showed a disparity of some $40,000 relative to educational attainment,” the study noted.

Specifically, students with less than a high school education showed markedly lower earnings potential within five years of the base year 2006. Those leaving in ninth grade had average wages of $6,971 per year; 10th grade, average $8,602 per year; 11th grade, average $10,318 per year; 12th grade, average $11,254; high school graduation, $14,972.

By comparison, those students who obtained some college credit had average annual earnings of $23,024.

The “Strive for 5 – Stay in Class” initiative seeks to inform both students and parents of the consequences to the future regarding classroom attendance through the 12th grade.

The district plans a media campaign of advertising, public opinion polling, and promotional activity to educate students, parents, local business and the community at large regarding the problem and to seek support for students to maintain classroom attendance.

A community engagement component involving business and professional partnerships that center upon lost employee time because of student absenteeism, along with a program of campus-based student rewards and incentives will also be employed, Hart said.

District policy explained in student handbooks distributed on each campus allows no more than 10 absences per semester.

“Whenever a student exceeds 10 absences in a semester, the District shall notify the prosecuting authority and the parent, guardian, or person in loco parentis shall be subject to a civil penalty as prescribed by law,” the policy states.

Dr. Linda Clark, district social worker/homeless liaison, and Mary Beth Fincher, district special services coordinator, will direct the initiative for the district.

Also Monday, the board heard a report by Portia Jones, district curriculum coordinator, explaining the Arkansas Department of Education’s assessment criteria for the ACT Aspire standardized test which will be used to evaluate student performance in the Spring, 2016, administration of the test.

“Our test scores are not where we want them to be; but, we now have information to help us to do better,” Jones said.

She reviewed test data from the most recent administration of the test, noting that changes in assessment criteria will require not only the Hope district, but also districts across the state to modify their teaching methodology.

“Writing is low across the state, even in the northern part of the state,” Jones said. “They are not defining what our kids are to do; all of this was released after the test. Now, we know more about what they have to do; and, we should do better this year.”

She said more rationale for work will be required in the spring test administration; and, more direct online input of responses by students. Jones said that will include an ability to use keyboarding skills at the first grade level.

“We weren’t prepared and the kids weren’t prepared,” she said. “It’s eye-opening for a lot of school districts.”

Jones said the new assessment protocol will require more organization and depth of students, while still addressing whatever portion of the test material a student completes within 30 minutes as the base for that student. She said sixth grade level writing skills will require the composition of a 300-word reflective narrative in 30 minutes which means a student must compose a story line and produce a narrative that explains it.

In math, Jones said students will be required to explain their answers.

“If you don’t justify two plus two equals four, you have an incorrect answer,” she said.

In other actions, the board:

--Adopted a facilities use policy which left intact current liability limitation provisions and requires a $250 refundable deposit.

--Accepted the bid of Stout Concrete Construction of Emmet at $15,865 for removal of debris and replacement of a concrete drive area adjacent to the agriculture building at Hope High School.

--Adopted LEA migrant and technology safety policies for grant funding.

--Agreed to sell two used buses through sealed bids.

--Adopted recommendations for certified and classified hires and resignations.

--Heard reports on rain-delayed construction at the Beryl Henry Elementary School campus; and, on roof repairs at Clinton Primary School.

--Adopted master schedules for the school year.

--Approved a facilities use request by the Pentecostal Temple Church of God In Christ in Hope.