Attendance, truancy enforcement on the rise in Hawkins County

Jeff Bobo • Jul 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE - It's not a coincidence that attendance is on an upswing in the Hawkins County School System while at the same time the number of truant students cited in the juvenile court is rising as well.

Rather than attempting to give students incentives to attend school, the school system improved attendance this past year by giving students and their parents incentives to avoid unexcused absences.

In recent past school years, some Hawkins County schools offered incentives to students for having perfect attendance such as cash prizes, gift certificates, and even a vehicle was awarded one year.

Attendance supervisor Steve Starnes told the Hawkins County BOE last week that the incentive programs didn't produce the desired results.

What has produced good results, however, is dealing with truancy issues with the system's Truancy Review Board. And if that doesn't work the truant students and their parents are cited into Hawkins County Juvenile Court.

Starnes presented his 2006-07 attendance report to the BOE Thursday evening, showing that overall the Hawkins County School System's attendance improved 0.32 percent to 94.72 percent over the 2005-06 school year when it was 94.40 percent.

Starnes noted that the systemwide attendance has improved each year since the 2000-01 school year. In 2000-01, overall attendance was at 92.74 percent and steadily increased each ensuing year to its current level: 92.96 in 2001-02; 93.26 in 2002-03; 93.68 in 2003-04; 94.21 in 2004-05; 94.40 in 2005-06; and 94.72 last year.

More important than the slight improvements every year is the fact that all 17 schools in the Hawkins County System exceeded the federal No Child Left Behind minimum attendance standard of 93 percent.

The Hawkins County system isn't satisfied with meeting NCLB standards, however.

"About three years ago we convened an attendance improvement team that set tougher local goals for attendance," Starnes said. "Our local goals for K-8 is 95 percent, 9-12 is 93 percent, and system is 94."

Although each of the high schools, including Clinch School, met their local goal, there were several in the K-8 category that fell slightly below the local goal including Bulls Gap, Church Hill Middle, Hawkins Elementary, Joseph Rogers, Keplar, St. Clair, Surgoinsville Elementary, Surgoinsville Middle, Mooresburg and Rogersville Middle. Mooresburg and Rogersville Middle were the only two schools to miss the local goal by more than 1 percent.

There were, however, several schools that made significant attendance improvements last year over the previous year including Rogersville Middle at 0.89 percent; Hawkins Elementary at 0.65 percent; Church Hill middle at 0.48 percent; and Surgoinsville Elementary at 0.25 percent.

The high schools also showed improvement over the previous school year including 0.80 at Cherokee High School, 0.43 percent at Volunteer High School, and the K-12 Clinch School was the biggest gainer in the system at 1.02 percent.

Mount Carmel Elementary had the best attendance in the county system at 96.04 percent, followed by Clinch at 96.03.

While the overall attendance figures has slowly been on the rise, so has the number of truant students. Any student with five unexcused absences is considered truant.

This past school year the Hawkins County School System had 1,071 students who had five or more unexcused absences, 51 higher than the previous year. Of those truant students, a total of 277 were placed on one year probation by the Truancy Review Board compared to 262 the previous year.

A total of 232 students were petitioned into Hawkins County Juvenile Court for truancy this past school year, an increase of 45 over the previous year.

"When a student is cited into juvenile court, because they are a juvenile a parent must go with them," Starnes said. "One of our goals has been to improve our relationship with juvenile court, and I think we really have done that - especially with our new Judge James Taylor. He takes the stance too that kids should be in school."

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