- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

The District’s attempts to reduce truancy are too fragmented, said D.C. State Superintendent of Education Deborah A. Gist, who is calling for a more unified approach that includes greater involvement from police, schools and family services.

“I think what we need is better coordination and sharing of information and to have a consistent understanding of who owns what responsibilities,” Miss Gist said. “There are pieces of work that are good, but the various groups that come into play need to be better organized.”

Miss Gist said her office, which is responsible for recommending education guidelines to the D.C. State Board of Education, was analyzing the city school system to determine whether weak policy or poor enforcement has failed to reduce truancy rates.

She will collect input from school officials and parents and offer recommendations to the board in a report due in the fall.

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee will be required to implement operating procedures based on policies enacted by the board, school officials said.

The Metropolitan Police Department said officers had picked up 5,655 students this school year, as of Tuesday. It was not clear how many were repeat truants.

D.C. schools reported 2,420 chronically truant students as of Feb. 22. That was about 5 percent of the system’s students with at least 15 unexcused absences.

School board member William Lockridge agreed with Miss Gist that attendance rates can be improved by clarifying the roles of the school system and support agencies and by centralizing data systems.

“We need to know who those kids are who consistently have been truant over the years,” Mr. Lockridge said. “We should be targeting them.”

He said the board is unlikely to propose a policy on truancy before the report is released.

Schools spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said yesterday that there was “nothing on the horizon” regarding truancy policy or initiatives. She said administrators had developed a new attendance handbook and that assistant Superintendent Diane Powell, who oversees the Student Intervention Services branch, trained counselors on the handbook on Feb. 22.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s budget proposal for fiscal 2009 contains about $369,000 for truancy services at the city’s two detention centers. His proposal is about double the amount approved for fiscal 2007.

School officials said Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso, who oversees the District’s education agencies, was discussing ways to better coordinate intervention services with several agencies.

Miss Gist said her office was selecting a vendor for a new school data warehouse, which will include modules for attendance and truancy.

Poor attendance and unreliable student record keeping have plagued the system, though Mrs. Rhee’s predecessor, Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, made modest gains in increasing attendance during his roughly three-year tenure.

Previous efforts included establishing a truancy office, assessing academic penalties on students who missed class and referring parents of repeat offenders to truancy court.

• Gary Emerling contributed to this report.

TRUANCY NUMBERS

The Metropolitan Police Department has been aggressively picking up truant students since the first day of school at the request of schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

Aug. 34

Sept. 707

Oct. 903

Nov. 878

Dec. 413

Jan. 848

Feb. 996

March* 876

Total 5,655

*Current as of March 25.

Source: Metropolitan Police Department

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