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Natrona County School District: Attendance Numbers Are In, And Up

Tom Morton, Townsquare Media
The Natrona County School District board of trustees met at Kelly Walsh High School on Monday. Trustee Toni Billings, on the right, said attendance has improved at most high schools after policy changes went into effect last year.                  Tom Morton, Townsquare Media

The high schools, with one exception, in the Natrona County School District saw more students in class last semester after regulations about its attendance policy went into effect, a trustee said Monday.

“They are up in every high school either a half a percent or 2 percent for the first semester with the exception of Roosevelt,” Toni Billings said after the board’s meeting at Kelly Walsh High School.

“Specifically, the principals at Kelly Walsh and NC (Natrona County High School) felt that the 2 percent increase was pretty significant,” Billings said.

Roosevelt had some grade levels that showed an increase and some that showed a decrease so their overall average was not an increase in attendance, Billings said.

The board approved changes to regulations to the policy, not changes to the policy itself,  in June to respond to a graduation rate that has lagged behind the rest of the state.

Missing class negatively affects academic performance and the policy is intended to prepare students for the real world in which adults are expected to be on time for their jobs and commitments, trustees said then.

The proposed changes prompted a contentious board meeting on Oct. 10, when parents and at least one student called them unreasonable.

Parents said the new policy had the unintended consequences of penalizing students with illnesses and students who competed in nontraditional high school sports.

The board met with parents to resolve the issues, and approved the changes a week later.

Billings said the angst has diminished as parents have had more opportunities to talk with school officials.

She credited the improvements to the interventions that school officials conducted with students and their parents about absences.

The onerous-sounding word “intervention” means school officials are reaching out more than they have in the past, Billings said.

They sometimes found students were absent because they didn’t have transportation or they were homeless, she said.

“The same flexibility still exists there to have your children be absent for a parent-designated reason, whether that be a non-medical illness or something that doesn’t require going to the doctor, or even just a family trip,” she said. “Parents still have that flexibility to take their kids out, but our intent with the policy was to limit those to a number that was not going to impact the children’s education.”

Before the meeting, the board of trustees toured the new auditorium and the new pool at Kelly Walsh.

Everything at the school complex is now new and nothing is old, said Dennis Bay, the district’s director of business services.

“The original Kelly Walsh High School is no longer standing,” Bay said. “The last of the old gym was taken down today.”

In other building matters, Clark Jensen outlined the remediation schedule at Midwest School, which shut down abruptly in May because of very high levels of carbon dioxide and benzene. Other problems were found later.

Plans are in place to install systems to deal with volatile organic compounds, remove tiles and other materials with asbestos, repair damage from a broken water pipe, and set June 7 as the date for custodians, staff and teachers to get in the building to prepare for the fall semester starting Aug. 6, Jensen said.

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