GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT STANDARDS
At their September 9 meeting, the Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education adopted a new k-12 attendance policy recommended to it by a committee of teachers, administrators and parents. In doing so, they have taken a very significant step in elevating the academic standards of the district by signaling to both students and parents that there will be academic sanctions against those students who absent themselves or who are late to class excessively. The new attendance policy (soon to be distributed in its official form to students and parents) was crafted to bring under control a growing pattern of abuse where students who missed literally months of school for no valid reason where receiving academic credit and where some parents thought nothing of taking their children out of school for family vacations. We had even reached the point where some parents of elementary students were taking their children out of school early so they could have some free time before the next scheduled activity or sometimes just to take them out to lunch.
The membership of the PCT has hailed the new policy. We have argued for years that among the problems facing our district has been a declining respect for the importance of attending school regularly. Our members have been frustrated up to now by many parents and, unfortunately, some administrators who seemed indifferent to their attempts to enforce attendance requirements.
While the Board of Education has taken a significant step forward in getting our school attendance problems under control, there is much that needs to be done. First of all, to make sure the entire school community takes the new attendance policy seriously. At the first meeting this year of the PCT Executive Board, I took the occasion to encourage our building reps to impress upon our members the importance of following the new policy strictly. I pointed out that we have had attendance policies in the past that were honored more in the breach and that the result was serious damage to our credibility in the eyes of our student and parents. No policy, in my view would be better than one that is not enforced.
I also told our Executive Board to let their building administrators know that our union was determined to make this policy a success. I told them that the officers of our union wanted to know if building administration was bowing to the pressures and threats of some parents to look the other way at unexcused absence and lateness because we would then bring maximum pressure on those administrators to join with us in making the new policy work.
Long before Commissioner Mills came up with his version of elevated academic standards, the members of the PCT were calling on people in the school community who were serious about quality education to address the growing perception of the staff that our academic standards were eroding. As president of the PCT, I have for sometime been the spokesperson for the need for bold action in this area. Recently, I have begun to sense that our message is resonating with the school community. To date the Board of Educationís politically courageous adoption of the new attendance policy is the best evidence of movement in the direction of a return to fair, but rigorous academic standards.
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