ANCHORAGE - Administrators at Anchorage's East High School think they've found a way to solve the school's attendance problem. Low attendance is something that the school has struggled with and its one shared by high schools across Anchorage.
Principal Michael Graham said the new superintendent of schools challenged them to look at their rates months ago and they decided personal contact was key. This year they've reduced absenteeism by 48 percent, and it's as simple as a personal phone call.
But in a school of 2,100 students, that's a lot of phone calls. So the principal, nurses, security guards -- basically anyone at the school that isn't in a classroom -- divide up the list of students every day and each day they make phone calls to the homes of those that don't show up to first class.
Graham looked over his list. He had about a dozen names out of over 100 absent. Some had called in sick, others were present for their second class. Out of all of them, he saw just one unexcused. He made the phone call to a mother who said she just dropped her daughter off. Graham reminded her that school starts at 7:30 every day.
He said he knows it might not seem like a big deal to miss the first class, but, "it is a big deal. it's a concern."
He said students had caught on quickly to the fact that sleeping in could mean a call to mom and dad.
Tupe Assa, a 12th grader, doesn't want her parents hearing about her cutting class. She hasn't missed any school this year. This isn't entirely due to the phone calls. Assa has been working to improve her grades and attendance since a rocky freshman year. At that time, a robo-call would go to her house when she skipped school. "When they would send the phone calls home, I would just make up an excuse, but when it's a real person, you can't just make up an excuse."
But not all students are missing class just by sleeping in and playing hooky. They've also identified serious problems. There were some homeless students, for whom Graham says the school found transportation.