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Posted January 13, 2015

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Message from Dr. Winter: You Must be Present to Win

Read the superintendent's column that ran in the Albuquerque Journal on Jan. 13.

“You must be present to win.”

We’ve all heard the phrase before, usually in reference to a drawing or raffle. But, the saying has significant meaning when applied to public education too. Students who aren’t present in the classroom – who aren’t at school every day – can’t get the education they deserve, which too often means they won’t win in life.

Join Us for a Truancy Town Hall 10-noon Saturday, Jan. 24, at Manzano High

That’s why Albuquerque Public Schools is poised to take on the problem of truancy.

Like most large urban school districts in America, APS grapples every day with the serious, costly and life-altering problem of chronic truancy. It’s an issue that has no boundaries; it impacts every school, grade level, ethnicity and socioeconomic group in our district.

It’s time to fine tune our approach to dealing with this problem, which means tackling it as a community. The factors that lead to truancy are far too complex to expect the district to annihilate the problem alone. We’re challenged to come up with real solutions that will keep all of our students in school, learning until they graduate.

That’s why we’re turning to you for help.

For the first time, Albuquerque Public Schools will host a three-day truancy blitz to raise awareness of the problem, and invite others to share their knowledge, ideas and resources for addressing it.

The blitz will kick off on Thursday, Jan. 22, with an Attendance Summit co-hosted by Mission Graduate. The purpose of the summit is to share information about promising practices that are reducing truancy both at the local and national level and to develop deeper community partnerships that will help keep the momentum going.

During the summit, we’ll be discussing our Truancy Intervention Program, currently in place at 23 APS schools. As a part of this program, we hired eight social workers to intervene as soon as students show signs of school avoidance. These professionals work with students, families and school staff on developing a plan to get kids back in school. This often involves home visits to identify the root causes of absences.

In some cases, the solution is simple. For example, the principal at one of our elementary schools recorded a personal message for a student, wishing him a good morning and saying she was looking forward to seeing him at school. With permission from the boy’s parents, the call was set up to go to his house every morning. It worked! The boy started going to school regularly.

Other cases are much more complicated and require assistance from law enforcement, mental health professionals and even state agencies at times. We realize that emotional and social issues often influence a student’s attendance. Getting to the core of these issues is key to resolving them.

As part of the Truancy Blitz, we hope to work with the media to provide information and support to families dealing with student absenteeism.

In addition, we’ll be hosting a Truancy Town Hall on Saturday, Jan. 24, which will include a short formal presentation to introduce the audience to the topic, followed by a community discussion to give the public a chance to ask a panel of experts specific questions about truancy. The audience will have an opportunity to suggest solutions as well.

We have the power to address the causes of truancy and make changes. Just as we tell our kids they must be present to win, all of us – schools, businesses, governments, nonprofits, parents, grandparents, neighbors – must be part of this effort because, when students are in school learning and succeeding, we all win.

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