A high school in the Manor Independent School District is being honored for winning a nationwide attendance challenge in the fall through the Get Schooled program and the E3 Alliance. The school district has been putting more attention on improving student attendance rates, but it's especially excited about this particular school’s success in that area.
Manor Excel Academy is a small school with two buildings and about 124 students. Some are as old as 21. It’s what’s called an accelerated diploma high school that helps at-risk students. Students may be behind in credits or failing standardized tests when they enter the school. They could qualify for free or reduced lunch and, at the same time, be raising children or working to make ends meet.
“It's a school of opportunity," says Kevin Brackmeyer, Manor ISD superintendent."The school allows students to have a second chance."
More than 80 percent of the students at Manor Excel are considered at-risk and all of these challenges mean it can be difficult to get kids to class. To make it easier on students, the school allows flexible schedules for students to help get them to graduation.
"We tailor the schedule to the student. It's not like that we're in lock-step, 'You have to do this,' like at the high school," says Principal Eduardo Lozano, adding that many students attend a few classes and then head off to work for the rest of the school day. "I've got one kid that works at AutoZone. He's supporting his family."
He says many students finish their classwork and assignments online.
The school also created advisory periods, which they call familias. In those periods, about 10 to 15 students meet with one teacher every day and talk about grades, attendance or home life.
“Kids really want a relationship with somebody, with an adult," says Principal Lozano. "And [in a regular high school] you have seven periods. You go classroom to classroom every time the bell rings. Your science teacher doesn’t know your first name, the math teacher doesn’t know your last name, it’s hard. So, I think with advisory period, if you really focus, you can get to know 15 to 20 kids."
Texas schools self-report attendance records to the Texas Education Agency and determine when to take attendance during the day. Students must attend at least four hours of class in a day for the school to receive state funding for that full-time student. Education advocates with the E3 Alliance say that money adds up. Last year, the group estimated Central Texas school districts lost out on $91 million because of student absences.
“If students aren’t in class, they can’t learn, teachers can’t teach them and schools don’t get funded for students who are not there," says Amy Wiseman, a researcher with the E3 Alliance.
In Manor, school district officials are focusing on attendance at all schools, not just Manor Excel Academy. Superintendent Brackmeyer says he monitors every school’s attendance rate on a weekly basis and sends out a district-wide report so schools can see how they’re doing.
He says in a recent week, Manor Excel Academy saw a five percent increase in attendance from the same time last year. The school's overall attendance rate was 76 percent for the 2011-12 school year, which still lags behind the state average of 96 percent.