ROCKLAND, Maine — Student absences and tardiness are a serious and persistent problem that must be addressed by the community, according to Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent Lew Collins.
“We need a call to action within every strand of our state and community to address the very serious and persistent problem of student absence and tardiness,” Collins said in a memo sent to the school board in advance of its next meeting on Thursday.
When asked to elaborate on the memo, he told the Bangor Daily News that the problem is not isolated to RSU 13 but that the district has a greater problem than in other districts he has served.
The district has had a lower average daily attendance rate than the state average. According to the Maine Department of Education for 2009-2010, the average daily attendance rate for elementary schools was 94.77 while RSU 13 had a slightly lower rate of 94.49.
But there is a greater disparity within the district elementary schools in RSU 13. The attendance rates for RSU 13 elementary schools in October of this year ranged from a low of 93.85 percent at the South School in Rockland which has an enrollment of 296 students to a high of 96.93 percent at the St. George School that had 175 students.
The superintendent will ask for the board to begin addressing the problem when it meets at 6:30 Thursday evening at the McLain School in Rockland.
He has placed the item on that night’s meeting agenda.
Collins was hired in July to lead the school district that includes Rockland, Thomaston, St. George, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing.
He told the BDN there are many elementary school students who are not only chronically absent but who are significantly tardy through no fault of their own.
He said in terms of tardiness, there are students who are dropped off at school 90 minutes to two hours late on a regular basis. He said the district teaches literacy at its lower grades during the early part of the day when students are most alert and the students will not receive the benefit of that teaching if they are absent.
“Their parents need to either step up to the plate or be taken to task for such neglect,” Collins said.
Poverty and circumstance can overwhelm even parents with the best of intentions, but the young students cannot grow academically or socially without parental support, the superintendent said.
Collins told the BDN there is no reason students should be chronically absent or tardy. He said the district serves breakfast and provides transportation from the home to the school.
“All they have to do is set the alarm and get them on the bus,” Collins said.
In his memo, he said he was working on a rather grand initiative that will ultimately involve state and local agencies and officials to begin examining and addressing this issue. He said he would want the Maine Department of Human Services involved since it already spends millions of dollars on in-home services to some families.
He said he would offer more thoughts at the board meeting.