11 March 2011

Truancy group's goals: Define truancy, build common policies

By Leigh Dalton

The York County Truancy Prevention Initiative stakeholders and partners hosted a Truancy Summit in the fall of 2010. More than 200 people attended the Summit. More than 40 were York City School District employees, and at least 20 students and their parents attended. Many legal firms were represented, and a handful of judges were present. And more than half of the school districts were represented by their superintendent.

Using input from that event, the Truancy Prevention Initiative engaged in strategic planning at the end of November 2010. The Truancy Prevention Initiative’s Executive Board matched community and school district input with the five recommendations from the Pennsylvania State Roundtable Truancy Workgroup’s report, “Truancy: A Call to Action.”

One of the most important tasks the York County Truancy Prevention Initiative must undertake in the next year is to work with all the York County school districts to establish one consistent, operational definition of truancy. As a parent it must be confusing. If you move to another school district, many of the rules and attendance policies may change. Not knowing of the change, a parent may follow the protocol from their child’s previous district, and find himself or herself receiving a citation to go to court.

As a doctor, it must be confusing. You serve families and children from multiple school districts. Some school districts require a doctor’s note after five days absence, some require such a note after 10. How are you to keep it straight?

As a judge who sees families and children from multiple school districts, it again must be hard to keep it all straight – one district cites families after three days’ of absence; another district cites after four, another may cite after five.

Wouldn’t it be nice if York County had one policy? Outreach and education about these laws and policies could be countywide. Families, district judges and doctors would know what to expect – and we would all expect the same thing – 100 percent attendance from 100 percent of our students. And that isn’t to say that we don’t expect 100 percent attendance now, but wouldn’t it be so much easier to do this together?

If we had one policy, we could track programs to see if they are working. The York County Truancy Prevention Initiative has a few interventions now and intends to implement a few more in the future. For instance, right now we have a Check and Connect pilot program in three school districts – Northeastern, South Western, and York City. We are collecting data and are trying to learn how to make the program better for each district, but it is hard to compare progress across districts. Comparison across districts matter because we want to learn how the program works in each district, make it as effective as it can be, and then use that data to leverage resources that will expand this program across the county. If there were one operational definition of truancy, with countywide, consistently implemented protocols, the possibilities of how we could improve attendance and increase graduation rates are endless.

Not only do we want to track the efficacy of interventions, but we want to know how the overall Truancy Prevention Initiative is working. It is near impossible to really get a handle on our progress if each school district speaks a slightly different dialect of the same language. In order to assess progress and success of the Truancy Prevention Initiative, all the schools in the county must be collecting the same data and using the same metrics.

To address this issue, an advocacy committee and a data collection committee are being created. The advocacy committee will present to school boards to ask that all the school boards in York County adhere to one operational definition of truancy. The data collection committee will establish progress benchmarks to assess the percentage of districts that approve the protocol, reductions in citations filed, reductions in recidivism, and other vital data points that are necessary to assess progress.

The York County Truancy Prevention Initiative’s strategic plan also addresses outreach to the community, education of and partnership with various stakeholders such as parents, doctors and businesses, and sustainability.

We continue to hold Truancy Task Force meetings, the fourth Thursday every other month, with representatives from schools, courts, the community, service agencies, government agencies, the District Attorney’s Office, York County Office of Children, Youth and Families, Juvenile Probation Office, nonprofits and businesses. About 30 people typically attend, but he meetings are open to the general public – noon to 1:30 p.m. at the York County Judicial Center, Hearing Rooms 1 and 2, Fourth Floor.

Leigh Dalton is the director of the York County Truancy Prevention Initiative (www.yorktruancyprevention.org) and the community mobilizer for York County Communities That Care. After receiving her law degree from the University of Baltimore, School of Law, she managed a truancy intervention program called the Truancy Court Program. She is pursuing her doctorate in education policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She lives in Spring Garden Township with her husband, baby daughter and her two rescued dogs. She can be reached at leigh@yorkbar.com and 717-854-8755, ext. 209.



What: "State of the Schools: A Countywide Education Summit"
When: 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. April 14
Where: Pullo Center at Penn State York, 1031 Edgecomb Ave., York
How much: Admission is free, but advance registration is requested and box lunches will be available for $5.
Confirmed participants: Elaine Weiss, the national coordinator for Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, will provide the national context. An afternoon panel discussion will focus on school district budgets and the looming pension crisis. Presenters and panel discussion participants include:
  • Brian Jensen, executive director of the Pennsylvania Economy League of Southwestern PA and senior vice president of civic policy for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development;
  • Dennis Baughman, president of the Board of Trustees for the York Academy Regional Charter School;
  • Thomas Gentzel, executive director for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association;
  • James Testerman, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association;
  • Republican State Sen. Lloyd Smucker, who represents parts of York and Lancaster counties and serves on the Senate Education and Appropriations committees
  • Republican State Rep. Ron Miller, who represents southwestern York County, including York, Springfield, Shrewsbury, Codorus, Manheim and West Manheim townships;
  • Republican State Rep. Will Tallman, who represents York and Adams counties and serves on the House Education Committee;
  • Democratic State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, who represents York and parts of Spring Garden and West Manchester townships;
  • Dayna Laur, award-winning and nationally recognized teacher from Central York School District;
  • Joel Sears, president of the York County Taxpayers Council.
To register: Send an e-mail with your name, school district and phone number to events@yorkcounts.org, and if you plan to purchase one of the $5 box lunches, please indicate your lunch preference from these wrap choices: turkey, ham, chicken salad, tuna salad or veggie.
For details: Contact Dan Fink at YorkCounts at 717-650-1460 or at dfink@yorkcounts.org.

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