(07/30/2012)
Calhoun Schools have improved attendance through a concerted effort to deal with a truancy problem, according to administrator Kelli Whytsell.

Calhoun County's average attendance rate is between 95-97% for Pleasant Hill, Arnoldsburg and Middle High School, based on statistics from 2009 until the present.

Statistics for Calhoun High School were not provided.

Last school year (2011-2012) the school system issued 32 juvenile petitions to the prosecutor for filing consideration, and 21 criminal complaints were filed with magistrates. These were from students in from all county schools.

"Calhoun Schools have taken a very proactive stand on truancy. We work with students, parents, school counselors, magistrates and Department of Health and Human Resources. When a student is identified as having an attendance issue, a certified letter is mailed to parents," said Whytsell.

This notice requires a meeting in which attendance issues are discussed, and a plan is developed to correct the truancy. If the truancy continues, then one of two actions can happen. A criminal complaint can be filed with the magistrates or a juvenile petition is filed by the prosecutor.

"The student and parents are given a time period to improve the attendance," she said.

A state policy change in 2010 reduced the number of unexcused absences allowed from 10 to 5 per year. This caused a huge spike in the number of students with attendance issues.

Whytsell said, "We have a variety of programs in the elementary school and at the middle high school to encourage attendance. Some of the activities include monthly reward activities and recognition for attendance. Certificates are given to students with faithful attendance missing less than five days per year and perfect attendance."

"The goal of Calhoun County Schools is for every student to attend school in order to receive a quality education. Teachers, principals and counselors use every opportunity to talk to students and parents about the importance of attending school," Whytsell concluded.

Nicole Kirby will be assuming the attendance duties this year for the county system. She will be working with students, parents, teacher and community members in all matters dealing with attendance.

WV Department of Education officials told lawmakers that statewide tallies on student absences have been steadily declining since the 2008-09 school year.

Assistant state Superintendent of Schools Amelia Davis said that the number of students with five or more unexcused absences dropped from 121,958 in 2008-09 to 101,977 in 2011-12.

The number of students with 10 or more absences dropped from 60,605 to 45,345 during the same time frame. Students with 20 or more absences dropped from 19,263 to 14,342.

The state school system serves about 300,000 students.

The state report did not provide a grade-by-grade breakdown of the numbers, so it was not immediately clear to a legislative committee whether there was an across-the-board drop in truancy.

Lawmakers are still in the information-gathering stages to see if new legislation will be introduced.

In 2011, the state Supreme Court, cited numbers that show more than 34,000 students dropped out of school during the last decade.

The court says about eight in 10 of dropouts found their way to prison.


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