The first days of school are very exciting, as everyone comes together to make sure that the academic year gets off to a great start.
At the start of each school year, I’m often asked "what’s the most important thing parents can do to help their children succeed?"
My answer always is: "You’re already doing it - getting your kids to school."
The truth is that we can enact effective programs, hire great teachers and dedicate limitless resources to the education of our children. But it won’t do any good unless the students are in school to learn.
Or as one teacher told me: "We can’t teach them if they aren’t here!"
The vast majority of our parents know how important it is to make sure our students get to school on time and ready to learn. These are the parents who are checking homework, making sure their kids eat breakfast and are reminding them of their expectations of excellence on a daily basis. As the parent of a middle school and high school student, I know that’s not always easy - but you get it done.
Our communities have also put a lot of effort into making sure our students are in class every day. In 2003, Attendance Protocol Committees were set up around the state that brought together the entire community to combat truancy: the schools, the courts, business leaders and other stakeholders. These committees helped school systems develop attendance policies that were clear, fair and had some teeth.
Our educators and community leaders deserve a lot of credit for realizing that truancy is a community-wide issue, not just a school problem. The first step to providing a child with an excellent education is making sure they show up and are ready to learn.
In the past five years, with the support of educators, parents, community and business leaders, Governor Perdue, and the Georgia General Assembly, we have seen a dramatic decline in our truancy rate.
In 2003 when we released our first Adequate Yearly Progress report, 12.5 percent of our students in grades 3-8 and 11 had more than 15 absences. That meant that one out of every eight students missed nearly 10 percent of their classroom days.
But thanks to cooperation and teamwork at every level, that rate has nearly been cut in half.
When we released our 2007 Adequate Yearly Progress Report in July, the percent of students with more than 15 absences had nearly been cut to 6.9 percent. We are not satisfied - too many kids are still missing too much school. But we are making excellent progress.
This is a clear indication that when we work together, we get dramatic results.
I hope every educator, parent and student in Georgia is enjoying the first days of school and that excitement and enthusiasm continues until day 100 and beyond. On behalf of the State Board of Education and the Georgia Department of Education, thank you for all you are doing for the children - and the future - of our great state!
Kathy Cox, a parent and a veteran classroom teacher, is Georgia’s Superintendent of Schools.