Freeport School News
June 2002

June 19, 2002

School Leadership Falls Down On Attendance

By Stewart S Lilker

Attendance Regulation Links
Freeport's Draft Attendance Policy
The Commissioner's Attendance  Regulation
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Letter from State Ed Regarding New Regulations
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Q & A on Attendance Policy
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January 2002 Letter From State Ed

The customary lack of leadership and decision making by the top management and board of the Freeport Schools was demonstrated again as Freeport raced to meet the deadline for the state's mandated attendance policy. 

With the final decision looming on the policy tonight, the district refuses to post the draft policy on its web site in any language. It is unknown why the district did not advise the community that a committee was formed to develop the mandated attendance policy.

As the district continues to flounder with both the high school and middle school on state watch, the district remains controlled by the same insiders.

In February of 2001, the NYS Board of Regents began discussing the development of a statewide attendance policy and formed a state wide advisory council. According to the State Education Department (SED), "there is a positive correlation between consistent school attendance, academic success and school completion."

A bulletin prepared by SED in March of 2001 gave these reasons for taking attendance: "To know the whereabouts of every student for safety and other reasons; to determine the districtís average daily attendance for State Aid reimbursement; to verify that individual students are complying with various compulsory education laws; and to identify individual and group absence patterns in order to provide programs and services that will assist each student to be successful in meeting higher academic standards."

In November of 2001, the Regents received a synthesis of the recommendations of the Commissionerís Statewide Attendance Advisory Council.

Unknown, except for the chosen few, the district recently formed an attendance committee. While SED required that district reach out to students, parents, and community members, the committee was hand picked by the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Tony Ciaglia. There were no students or unaffiliated community members on the committee. The top man in the district, Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Eric Eversley, did nothing to see that Ciaglia out reached to the community. It is unknown if the school board ever knew that the committee was formed.

On May 22, 2002, the draft attendance policy, dated May 9, 2002, was presented to the board. Of course, it was not available in Spanish, nor was the policy posted on the districtís web site, even though the district has continually claimed that this is one of the primary ways they want to stay in touch with the community. The policy was not sent home with the children to give to their parents.

On June 12, 2002, for the first time, the district allowed public comment on the attendance policy. The Internet use policy and part of the SAVE policy were also discussed that evening. 

Four members of the school board were present at the meeting. They were, John Muscara, Joe Cattano, Ron Ellerbe, and Mike Raab. It appeared that none of them were familiar with the policy. Even though the board had the policy for three weeks, neither the board nor the Superintendent had any suggestions for changes.

Teachers, parents and administrators came to the microphone with their comments and suggestions. The largest contingent attending the meeting was the teachers from the high school. Reflecting the lack of notice regarding the agenda of the meeting, only a handful of parents were in attendance.

One parent didnít think that the policy addressed the needs of the children at the middle school.

Ms. Cieslik, past Co-President of the high school PTA, asked why all the school site based teams in the district, except that at the high school, received the proposed attendance policy. Ciaglia explained that she would have to take it up with the high school. When Ms. Cieslik asked why there werenít any children represented on the committee, Ciaglia explained that all the stakeholder groups were represented. He could not explain why neither residents without children nor any students were represented on the committee. Superintendent Eversley, following in the footsteps of former superintendent, Josephine Moffett, remained silent.

In a refreshing departure since the days of former Superintendent Richard Bonen, who was just about the last person of authority in the district who took any responsibility for anything, interim high school principal, Robin Calitri, told the board, "If any member of the community has a problem with anything that is going on at the high school they should be addressing me, because it is going on my watch and that is what you hired me for and I will accept the blame for it."

Former high school principal and current middle school principal, Mike Campbell, who was ousted from the high school a couple of years ago by a thoughtless, self serving and vindictive school board, addressed the board regarding the proposed attendance policy.

Campbell spoke extemporaneously. He told the Board:

As principal of Dodd and as a person who has been in the district for over thirty years, I have a few concerns about the attendance policy. I am concerned about the punitive nature of it. Iím concerned that it appears that it is a policy written almost entirely for the high school. Many of the clauses in it do not apply to the elementary schools and to a limited amount, to the middle school. Because of our policy on social promotions, it has very little meaning in seventh and eighth grade. Under no circumstances can a youngster be held over in those grades more that once.

I have some real concerns about the whole concept about holding a youngster over and if you look at the research on that, holding a kid back in grade is an indicator of future dropouts. Certainly, if we do it a second time, there is a very clear connection between those two.

I think the whole policy itself needs to address the whole aspect of the importance of attendance and within each school I think we need to develop procedures to make sure that actually happens.

We have one attendance officer throughout this district. I think that needs to be addressed as part of this policy. It is virtually impossible for one person to monitor seventy-two hundred kids.

Summer School has to be looked at very carefully. I donít believe that in any way, Summer School is a reward for a youngster. I donít believe kids look at Summer School as a reward. We have had a lot of discussion over the last several years about improving summer school, as part of our expanded school year and our expanded program for those youngsters who have deficits in their background. To deny them the opportunity to attend summer school, we would loose the opportunity to extend the school year for those youngsters who need it the most.

These are difficult issues and I understand there are no easy answers. Some of these things apply at certain age groups. I think some parts this current attendance policy will work at the high school. I think they are less effective at the middle school and almost meaningless at the elementary level. So I think at the very least, we need to do more work on the policy.

One last thing, I do think they are important issues.

The whole issue of a youngster who has been denied credit, whatever the magic number may be, has got to be addressed. To say that youngster is going to be in school every class every period is not realistic. Thatís not going to happen. I think that issue has to be addressed. If a youngster knows that they are denied credit and denied the right to attend summer school, you have another issue that you need to deal with, about what we are going to do with that particular kid. 

Interim Principal, Robin Calitri, followed Campbell to the microphone. He told the Board:

There is a culture in Freeport that says a child says to themselves, "I wonít bother coming to school for a whole year, because I can get it in summer school in six weeks." So I am certain that before the committee made its recommendation, they did extensive interviews with students attending summer school, to be certain that that reason actually goes through the mind of many of our students.

To echo my esteemed colleague, Mr. Campbell, not only is retention, which is what these policies are, they are retention policies. Not only do these policies end in a particular dropping out, they are a predictor of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pregnancy, violence and all the other behaviors we want to correct.

I would suggest that this be given careful consideration. We want the students in class. Denial of credit may be a fear that adults understand and students who comply with rules understand and we may be able to turn the corner with enough of our students to change the culture of learning in Freeport, but for those students who are disenfranchised, we have a disaster looming. That disaster is hundreds of students who are denied credit, in the first few weeks of school, but are told they must remain in the classroom in order to attend summer school. Are they going to sit and be wonderful good citizens for the remainder of the year? Are they going to be a joy to teach, or, are they going to contribute to the negative behavior in classes that the teachers find difficult?

I would hope that the board would consider some of the research on attention and some of the research on students in Freeport, in terms of the reasons for failure.

Your reporter, referring to the part of the attendance policy that stated, "... designated staff members will communicate the studentís parents and the studentís guidance counselor within 48 hours when determination of an unexcused absence has occurred," asked Superintendent Eversley if he thought 48 hours, which really amounted to three days, was an acceptable amount of time for the district to contact a parent when a student didnít show up for school or class.

Eversley stared straight ahead refusing to speak.

Your reporter continued addressing the Superintendent. "Letís assume a single parent leaves for work before her child leaves for school. The parent has the expectation that her child will show up in school and be in its care and custody for the school day. The child could go absent the following day and the district still would not have to notify the parent. Under these circumstances, could you please tell me if you think the 48 hour policy is a prudent one?"

Eversely continued to stare straight ahead and not answer.

When it became clear that Eversley was not going to answer, your reporter asked, "Are you going to answer?"

Eversley thought for a moment. Showing his annoyance, he furled his brow and after having said nothing, answered, "You have my answer."

It is unknown whether or not Eversley or the board thought the committeeís 48-hour time limit for notifying a parent was excessive, as none of them volunteered any thoughts on the matter. Indeed, other than board member Raab, who feels compelled to comment on everything, there were no suggestions from anyone on the board or any of the Superintendents.

As the meeting concluded, board member Joe Cattano complained that he was tired of hearing people complaining instead of offering suggestions.



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