CPS officials discuss truancy with community violence task force

Dec 5, 2013

Credit Rachel Rice / KBIA

Columbia Public Schools is working to improve class attendance rates.

Representatives from Columbia Public Schools presented their plan on how to combat truancy and how it impacts violent crime issues to the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence at the meeting Wednesday night.

Peter Stiepleman, assistant superintendent for Elementary Education, and Eric Johnson, Hickman High School assistant principal, hope to increase attendance rates to meet the required state goal.

Stiepleman says the big challenges for students with low attendance rates involve transportation and mobility. He said students are constantly moving to different homes and schools, which is problematic in academic success.  He told the task force about one student he knew personally who struggled after moving a total of five times.

“That is five schools in four years, and that is absolutely contributing to the achievement gap," Steipleman said. "It’s a no brainer.” 

There are a few schools that have mobility rates up to 30 percent and up to 60 percent within specific grade levels.

Stiepleman also addresses a significant poverty gap between students who receive free lunch and those who do not. Johnson said students with free lunch have some of the highest truancy rates.

One thing Columbia Public Schools is doing differently is working to stop suspending students for multiple days.

“It’s been an ongoing effort for years, but this year especially at Hickman Highs School, we really tried to target using restorative practices,” Johnson said. “Instead of suspending a student for a particular behavior or incident, what we would do is we would pinpoint what the concern was.”

Johnson also said they are trying to only suspend students for incidents that require suspension and to eliminate automatic suspensions by using the restorative practice technique.

“We understand that the first step in student success is them being at school first and foremost, and we want to do everything in our power to make sure we don’t take away their power to learn,” Johnson said.

Johnson says there is not a direct connection between truancy and violence but by keeping them in school the less likely his students will participate in violent crime.

The last meeting of the year is scheduled for Dec. 11.