Written by Eric Killelea
About 94 of Wolf Point’s Southside Elementary School students — roughly 33 percent — missed at least 20 days of classes last school year, according to a report released last Monday.
“The impact of chronic absenteeism is twice as great for students from low-income families,” said Vicki Bisbee, a counselor at Southside Elementary School, who presented her report before the Wolf Point School District board of trustees. “Chronic absenteeism increases achievement gaps at the elementary, middle and high school levels.”
Members of the school board considered the report’s findings a mirror to chronic absenteeism problems in other district schools. Most were alarmed to learn that 124 students missed 16 days of school or one month of education since schools in the district began four-day weeks in the 2011-2012 school year.
“There’s something wrong with the system,” said school board chair Mark Kurokawa when speaking with vice-chair Brandon Babb during the presentation. “Our system is failing.”
The counselor’s report comes one year after Attendance Works — a national advocacy organization — showed that student absenteeism in Montana was the worst in the nation and even more troublesome among the state’s Native American student population. Bisbee’s own report revealed that all chronically absent students at Southside School were Native American — save one — and all risked decreased academic scores and increasing dropout rates.
It showed an 88 percent attendance rate for Southside School students last year, less than the 93.6 rate statewide for Montana schools. The attendance rate seemed fair to most on the board until told the situation only worsens in higher grades and that Wolf Point High School’s graduation rate was 14 percent less than the state rate last year.
Members of the board also learned that “a school can average 90 percent of daily attendance and still have 40 percent of its students chronically absent because on different days, different students make up the 90 percent,” Bisbee said, citing a 2012 study from Johns Hopkins University. The State of Montana does not require school districts to report absenteeism.
One district teacher at the presentation claimed that she referred at least 64 students to Fort Peck Tribal Court last year and 88 students the year before. Tribal law states children must be in school from pre-school age until 18. State law is age 16.
“The kids that don’t graduate usually don’t work,” Bisbee said. “They get into crime and drugs.”
The report mostly includes data for Southside School, but district superintendent Gary Scott said Bisbee’s findings “represent our whole school district.”
“Attendance is a major problem we have in our school district,” Scott said Friday afternoon. “We need to find a way to get people to come to school. Everyone has to work together on this. It’s the fault of everybody.”
Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau in August invited schools, teachers, parents, students and the community to take part in the “Graduation Matters Montana” initiative. Southside School principal Susan Brown, Bisbee and other staff formed a committee to develop a plan of action and contacted stakeholders including students, families and businesses.
The committee has started to reward classes with perfect attendance, publish a twice-month newsletter and send postcards thanking families for good attendance, improved attendance and good behaviors. The committee has encouraged family involvement while reaching out to the Fork Peck Tribal Education Committee, local businesses, law enforcement and local newspapers.
“I’m optimistic,” Scott said. “I think we can do it, but it has to be a combination of everyone.”
Written by Herald-News
The Wolf Point High School Homecoming bonfire burns Thursday, Sept. 17. (Photo by John Plestina)
Written by John Plestina
Written by Herald-News
Wolf Point High School’s Homecoming royalty was presented during halftime of the Homecoming football game between the Wolves and Poplar Indians. Pictured are: (from left to right) seniors king Logan Nefzger, queen Trinity Whitmus, Andrew Heser, Aiyana Bridges, Terrell Hamilton, Camrynn Parker, Dylan Conner, Kyanna Hamilton, juniors Brady Babb and Shelby Hanks, sophomores Marques White Horse and Avery White, freshman Antonio Nation and Jessica Blankenship. (Photo by John Plestina)
Written by John Plestina
Pictured are Wendy Connelley, Tiffani Darby, Josh Eastman, Gary Farnsworth, Leslie Larson and Sandra Sather-Wesley.
Wolf Point Junior/Senior High School welcomed several new teachers that have joined the staff this school year.
New junior high history teacher Ryan Wilson declined to be interviewed.
Wendy Connelley joins the high school teaching staff as a math teacher.
In her eighth year of teaching, she moved to Wolf Point from Belgrade where she worked as a substitute teacher.
Originally from Livingston, Connelley graduated from Montana State University in Bozeman.
Tiffani Darby joins the staff as a junior high science and health teacher.
She is a first-year teacher who graduated from the University of Mississippi.
Originally from Mississippi, Darby and her husband have two children and have spent two winters in Montana.
Josh Eastman is a physical education and weight lifting teacher for junior and senior high students.
He is a first-year teacher, one and a half years out of Southwest Minnesota State University.
Gary Farnsworth is a former Scottie who is now a WPHS history teacher.
The Glasgow High School graduate who was raised in Fort Peck taught in Poplar for nine years and is a former principal in Lame Deer.
Farnsworth, who is a relative of the Weeks family in Wolf Point, has a military career behind him.
Leslie Larson is a first-year teacher and joins the high school teaching staff as a science teacher.
She is from Butte and graduated from the University of Montana.
Larson and husband Cody Larson have moved from Missoula. He is a Southside School teacher and the new WPHS girls’ basketball head coach.
Sandra Sather-Wesley is a junior high English teacher.
A seven-year resident of the local area, Sather-Wesley, who is from Seattle, Wash., farms in McCone County
She has been an English as a second language teacher at Fort Peck Community College, a substitute teacher at Frontier Elementary School and an online tutor for students in Afghanistan.