Barrington 220 takes aim at truancy, frequent absences

Megan Jones, Staff Writer
Daily Herald

Hoping to reduce student absences and prevent chronic truancy before it starts, Barrington Area Unit District 220 is adding a new computer software program to track attendance and contact parents of children who miss school frequently.

School board members voted 4-1 Monday to purchase Attention2Attendance, to keep tabs on attendance and automatically call, email or send a letter to parents when children are absent.

"It can do all three or just one or two," Superintendent Brian Harris said. "This allows principals some latitude on how they will do it, and they will follow up with a conversation, so it's becoming a program with protocols involved."

Officials said Barrington 220 is the first school district in Illinois to use the software, which will cost $3,500 per school. The district has 11 schools and an early learning center.

According to 2013-2014 attendance data, more than 30 percent of District 220 students missed more than 10 days of school during that school year.

"There is enough concern to consider going down this path," said school board Vice President Penny Kazmier.

While officials at the district's two middle schools and Barrington High School speak with students who have three or more unexcused absences, under state law, Kazmier said the tracking software will help them deal with absences before it reaches that point.

"It's hard to follow up on the ones who aren't quite there yet that might need an intervention before it gets to the point of truancy," she said.

Board member Angela Wilcox cast the only vote against the software purchase.

"$3,500 per school doesn't sound excessive, but when you add up the first year, that's certainty the cost of a teacher," she said. "Some of us as parents think it's OK to keep our kindergartner at home or go on an extended vacation when our work sends us out of town, and to change that culture is difficult."

If attendance data does not improve, Kazmier said the district could opt out of the three-year contract without a penalty.

If effective and attendance increases by just by 1 percent, the district could receive $25,000 of additional state aid, said Cindy Jaskowiak, assistant superintendent for educational programs and assessment.

"It would start early in elementary because the trends start there and the attitudes begin there, and consist communication would be able to reinforce it," Jaskowiak said.