Montmartre School Focus Group- A Review.

This past Tuesday, I planned my first ever focus group meeting.  Scary at first b/c I was the one planning it.  I have too many colleagues that would probably agree with that last statement too!

The topic for the evening was, “Attendance and Improved Learning Outcomes for Students.”  This night was planned to help support our Learning Improvement Plan (LIP).  Our school division is tracking attendance and are asking principals to do the same for their schools.  This is to not only improve attendance in schools, but to support our 310 calendar belief that teacher student contact time should be maximized.

This night, we provided a school and division context and then asked parents, students and SCC members to answer three questions:

1.  What is achievement?

2.  Does the school use time effectively?

3.  How can parents engage to improve attendance and learning.

The feedback and discussion was excellent to these three points.  Commonalities included:

1.  Achievement includes academics, social skills and extra-curricular events.

2.  Our school does do a good job of protecting instructional time, while balancing other events like assemblies, spirit days, etc.  All of these are important to an LIP and school.

3.  Parents should be conscientious about their children completing homework and should carefully monitor the number of days their children may be away from school.  Documents like attendance profiles are helpful as the number of days can add up in a big hurry.  Regular communication from the school to parents must continue.

Our school is showing strong attendance numbers so far this year, but we feel we can do better.  One area of improvement is to remove the perception that students can miss school on bus cancellation or “snow days.”  The only month our school was below the division trend was January, where we had three bus cancellations.  When this occurs, students (whether bus students or not) do not come to school.  The primary reason (as we discussed) involves two elements:

1.  The perception that teachers did not want students there and

2.  The “chain reason.”  Eg.  Nobody’s there, so there’s no point in going.

All parties agreed that both these perceptions can be changed.  For #1, we need to communicate clearly that school is open, teachers are there and instruction must continue.   If students can be at school, instruction can continue.  For #2, see #1.  Also, parents should try to bring students to school if possible.  In many instances, buses may not run, but parents vehicles can start on cold days.  Many still have to go to work, etc. so they could bring their kids to school.

Granted, we may not have perfect attendance on bus cancellation days, but if we can change perceptions (as noted above), instruction can continue.  As we discussed, if it snows three feet in one night (as it did in Jan. …in addition to the -45 degree days), we will not have students or even teachers in school.  However, on the wind chill days,  we can continue instruction.

(Bloggers note: For my two? readers in warmer climates, we still have school, even when the wind chill is -45 degrees Celsius.  I curse those electrical cords in the front of our vehicles! :P)

To make this work, we need to communicate the dialogue from this night to the community, by newsletter, school website, note  and word of mouth.  I told our group that they are my communication vehicle as well.

Overall a great night of discussion.  I can’t thank the parents, students and SCC enough for their input.

…and as I said to one of the students, “What will you say to your classmates about this night?”  She smiled (and agreed with me), “their taking away our snow days!”

we try…

    • Rachel Teesdale-Smith
    • April 6th, 2010

    I come from Australia and Dave I am absolutely flabbergasted that you still go to school in -45 degrees! My goodness, I would wrapped up in bed shivering like a branch in the wind, quilt around my ears, combustion stove top setting! I am interested in your thoughts around changing perceptions about weather. Over here, we are discussing closing school on what is called catastrophic days – over 40 C degrees, and strong north winds – in case of bush fires. I don’t know if any school has held a focus group around these issues but it seems a really good idea judging on your experience.

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