Subscribe for 33¢ / day
Elementary attendance

Officials reported that 22.9 percent of elementary students in the Portage Community School District missed 10 or more days of school last year, down from 27.2 percent the year before.

Portage elementary school principals reported seeing improved student attendance and achievement in 2017-18 and outlined the measures to help their schools perform even better next year.

Endeavor and Woodridge Principal Salina Thistle told the school board Monday that 22.9 percent of elementary students in the Portage Community School District missed 10 or more days of school last year, down from 27.2 percent the year before.

“We think we’re definitely moving in the right direction,” she said of the new attendance numbers. “We’re working hard to meet individual needs. Our deans of students and guidance counselors and principals are all contacting parents of students to immediately address concerns, asking, ‘What can we do to help?’”

Steps taken in 2017-18 included sending letters to all families at the beginning of the school year to inform them that attendance is a key focus for the school district, addressing the issue regularly in newsletters and seeking feedback from parents.

“We learned that parents would like to know the why,” Thistle said of the feedback, “and so we tell them why school is very important and ask them to please consider taking family vacations during school breaks. Plan ahead for what can be planned, but if they’re sick, keep them home.”

Next year, administrators will employ the same approach but emphasize consistency across the district, “making sure we’re all communicating the same thing to parents,” Thistle said.

Other elementary school goals discussed Monday included improving student achievement and school climate. For kindergarten and first grade, the administrative goal was for 70 percent of students to perform well in Fountas and Pinnell literacy assessments. Kindergarten exceeded this goal, performing at about 77 percent, while first grade fell short of the goal at about 68 percent.

“We know that in first grade, if we had just three more kids score at goal, we would have made the overall goal,” Thistle said. “So we were very close.”

Jason Meyer — who recently started as the principal of Rusch and Lewiston elementary schools after serving as principal at John Muir — reported that grades 2 through 5 exceeded achievement goals across the district for the second straight year.

Using testing data, the administrators sought an overall student growth percentile score of 59 in 2017-18, which they achieved with a score of 61. The simple explanation for student growth percentile, Meyer told the board, is how it compares subgroups of students who’ve tested similarly to one another.

The district in 2016-17 had set its student growth percentile goal at 56, which it had also exceeded with a score of 57.9.

“We’re pretty proud of that,” Meyer said of recent SGP scores, where the district hopes to make modest gains again in 2018-19.

Administrators said they will work to improve professional learning communities, which are comprised of staff members from each grade level at each school. Staff members in the groups meet weekly to talk about students, Meyer explained, and the meetings are the place “where we’re asking what to do when kids don’t know what they’re supposed to know,” as well as what to do for students deemed on track.

“How do we reach every student?” Meyer said of group discussions and instructional planning. “What will we do for every child?”

Administrators changed schedules so special education teachers also would be involved in the meetings and will make sure such meetings are consistent across the district, the administrators said.

Regarding climate, survey data from staff and parents have remained consistent for the past three years. Families and staff members get asked in the surveys if they feel welcomed, valued and connected to their school, for which the numbers meet or exceed 90 percent and typically fluctuate by only 1 or 2 percent year to year.

“We recognize we can’t do anything alone,” Thistle said, “and so we want parents and staff, guidance counselors and special education teachers — everybody working toward these goals.

“Together, everyone achieves more.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

Portage Daily Register reporter