Because school attendance matters

After studying regional student attendance patterns and achievement scores, I’m pleased to say the Godfrey-Lee Public School district is joining all of the districts within Kent county to define truancy as 10 unexcused absences in a school year and chronic absenteeism as missing more than 10 percent of scheduled school time.


Chronic absenteeism may be a term that is not commonly understood. It measures both excessive as well as unexcused absences. Because we currently have 177 scheduled school days this year, any student is considered chronically absent if he or she misses at least 17 days of school. Chronic absenteeism is different than truancy, which is defined as accumulating at least 10 unexcused absences. Whether an absence is excused or unexcused is determined by our Board of Education’s policy and listed in student handbooks.

The regular attendance of engaged students makes a huge difference in student achievement, with the performance gap between those who are present and those who are not growing wider each year they remain in school. Students who are truant, or chronically absent, are also at great risk of failing to graduate high school. They miss key concepts in math, science, English, social studies and other academic subjects. In addition, students who are still learning the English language regardless of their age or grade level — a substantial number of our students — need to be in school as much as possible to strengthen their English skills while studying academic content.

In preparing students for the world of employment, it is also important that they learn to manage their time wisely. In education, work, and most things in life, you must be present to win! Under normal circumstances, employers expect less than the 10 percent absenteeism rate for a year of work. Students who are chronically absent or truant from school are internalizing a poor habit that will work against them in the adult world.

By the year 2025, local employers project 64 percent of the West Michigan workforce will require a college degree or some post-secondary skills certification to successfully compete for a job sufficient to support a family. Additionally, they need to master a variety of “soft skills” or the 5-Cs as we call them: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and caring. Employers tell us all the time they want employees who show up every day, on time, with a good attitude, ready to work in teams and solve problems. These skills are developed in classroom and school activities starting at the youngest ages and missing a substantial amount of school degrades the ability of the student to master them.

Consider this wage data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2012, high school dropouts earned $471 per week; high school graduates $652; and college graduates with a bachelor’s degree, $1,066. Multiply those weekly figures by 52, and the annual earnings for a high school dropout were $24,492, compared with $33,904 for a high school graduate and $55,432 for a college graduate. Over a lifetime, the earnings gap between a college graduate and a high school dropout is more than $1 million.

Please know that we don’t take this move lightly. All 20 districts within the Kent Intermediate School District support this new definition of appropriate attendance and absenteeism as a unified effort to help families and students alike know that attendance matters. In addition, our Board of Education approved a resolution of support earlier in the year.

Simply put, your child needs to be in school. His or her future depends on it. Of course, our attendance policies will continue to accommodate illness, injury, unexpected family emergencies and extraordinary circumstances as we have in the past. We have no intent to threaten engaged students and families with truancy, but we will work with you to ensure your student keeps up with the work expected of all students.

If you have any questions regarding our attendance policy, or you have an issue that may require your student’s absence for an extended period of time, please speak with your building principal. Each of our schools also has a KSSN team ready to work along with your child’s teachers and principal to help improve his or her attendance. Please don’t hesitate to speak up if you need help.


About David Britten

Retired U.S. Army Officer, former elementary, middle and high school principal, currently serving as a public school superintendent.
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