Superintendent's Notebook: Attending school is important, starting with Day 1

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When I worked as a senior administrator for the Chicago Public Schools, first-day-of-school attendance was a very big deal. Every year, we worked hard to encourage all of our students to attend school, beginning with the very first day.

Now, as the new superintendent of the Portland Public Schools, I want to place that same emphasis on attendance here. Going to school matters – and it starts with Day 1.

In Portland, the first day of school this year for students in grades 1-12 is Aug. 31. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten children start on Sept. 6, the day after Labor Day. It’s critically important that students be there from the first day of school.

The start of the school year is when students and teachers get to know one another and establish relationships and important classroom routines. Students who miss those early experiences chance getting out of step with the learning going on in their classrooms and can find it hard to catch up.

And, of course, students need to keep up their attendance throughout the rest of the school year too. Missing school can have long-term negative impacts on student success.

“Students who miss school frequently end up with gaps in their learning,” according to Count ME In, Maine affiliate of the national organization Attendance Works. “They are less likely to read proficiently by third grade and more likely to drop out of school. Missing school, even in kindergarten, has consequences for children.”

Parents are important partners in ensuring students attend school. In addition to making sure their children are in school every day, families should also get involved with their child’s education. The start of school affords a variety of opportunities for families to meet teachers and familiarize themselves with their school communities.

Even before the official first day of classes, our schools will be holding events that include ice cream socials, barbecues, open houses to meet teachers and visit classrooms and welcoming events for new students. Families can learn more by visiting our district website, portlandschools.org.

I urge families also to stay involved throughout the school year. Stay in touch with your child’s teacher by doing such things as attending open houses and maintaining contact through other means, such as email. Please also keep track of your child’s academic progress including grades and assignments, through Infinite Campus, an online portal for parents and guardians.

Families should be aware that students in eighth grade this year will be the first to have to comply with the state’s new proficiency-based high school graduation requirements. An amendment passed this year requires certification of proficiency in language arts, math, science, and social studies by 2021. The Class of 2021 is next year’s freshman class!

I’d also like to remind families that most of our elementary schools and two of our middle schools will have new start/end times this school year so that our school buses can transport students to and from school in a more timely manner. This past school year, some students had long wait times for buses after school and some buses had to drop children off at school too early in the morning. These schedule changes should ensure that doesn’t happen.

There will be no bell schedule changes at the high schools, King Middle School, Riverton Elementary School and the island schools. Please see the Portland Public Schools 2016-2017 calendar on our website for more details on the schools that have schedule changes, or check with your local school.

Families also should know that the Portland Board of Public Education has asked me to organize a new strategic plan for our district that will be the successor of the Comprehensive Plan framework that has been in place since 2011. There will be opportunities for parents, guardians and other community members to be involved in helping to shape the future direction of education in our district. Expect to hear more about this at the end of this month and into the fall.

Xavier Botana is superintendent of the Portland Public Schools. He can be reached at superintendent@portlandschools.org.

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