Lay: Attendance is critical issue

Robert Smith

BARNSDALL — The superintendent of Barnsdall Public Schools told parents in the audience at a community meeting March 14 at the district’s elementary school cafeteria/gym that Oklahoma education officials are placing an increasingly heavy emphasis on school attendance.

Superintendent Jeff Lay explained it doesn’t matter anymore why a child is absent or whether a family can provide the school with a doctor’s note. The state collects attendance data electronically on a daily basis and classifies a student as “chronically absent” if he or she misses 10 percent or more of school days in an academic year for any reason. Chronic absenteeism is now a component on which school districts are graded by the state for purposes of issuing state report card grades.

Parents need to understand this is coming down from the state, and local administrators and teachers have no control over the policy, the superintendent said. The Barnsdall district’s state grades for 2018 in the area of Chronic Absenteeism (not the district’s overall marks for each school, but the grades just on the absenteeism issue) were a “C” for elementary school, a “D” for junior high school and an “F” for high school.

Lay also told his audience that he anticipates the state will force Barnsdall to prove it can provide a sufficiently high quality of education using the four-day-per-week schedule it currently uses.

“They are going to force us to prove it,” Lay said. He told parents that the practice of taking family vacations can cause real problems for the local school.

“Vacations during the school year kill us,” he said. Lay placed the need for a partnership between families and the schools in context of the school district’s ongoing effort to instill an ethical framework that emphasizes respect, discipline, academic growth, perseverance, taking responsibility for one’s own future, and lifelong learning.

Lay also said Barnsdall will be receiving additional money from the state to help address problems at the junior high school level. The school district received an overall grade of “F” overall for grades 7-8 on report cards issued Feb. 28, and will receive improvement funds for three years, he said. There will be a lot of meetings and training sessions to attend, and a lot of paperwork to do, but the district wants to make the needed changes, he said.

“We want to improve and we can improve,” Lay said. He also talked about school finances and an ongong facilities bond project. He said the teacher raises approved by the state Legislature in the spring of 2018 are costing more than the amount of additional money Barnsdall is receiving from the state to cover them. Barnsdall is having to come up with nearly $39,000 out of its other funds to pay for the first year of the raises, he said.

“Year to year, we will have to keep fighting the state Legislature to fund those raises,” he said.

Regarding the facilities bond issue, Lay said the current estimated completion date for a FEMA-rated community storm shelter that will provide a safe place during storms for up to 275 people is Aug. 1.