ToquiNotes: BHS Principal Mark DeFazio Laying Down Law on New Policy Impacting Entire Student Body

By Jeff Toquinto on July 29, 2017 from ToquiNotes via Connect-Bridgeport.com

When it comes to attendance at Bridgeport High School, at least on the surface, things look pretty good. After all, administrators say the state of West Virginia wants a school’s annual attendance rate to be at or above 90 percent.
 
Since 2015, that number at the Johnson Avenue educational facility sits safely above that threshold at 92.8 percent. BHS Principal Mark DeFazio has a real clear thought on that number: It’s not good enough.
 
Understand, DeFazio isn’t nitpicking. Rather, he sees a trend developing recently and he’s going to do something to put the brakes on it. He wants to see the rate where it was from 2011 to 2015 when BHS’s attendance was a Harrison County high of 97 percent.
 
Let me be a little clearer here. DeFazio doesn’t just want to see the number increase, he and the BHS administration are implementing a policy to try to do what they can to make sure that number rises. And what they’ve come up with is a system – exclusive to BHS –they believe will hold every student accountable to attending school or consequences will result.
 
“We’re concerned about Bridgeport High School’s attendance rate and two years ago we were at 97 percent and then last year you see we’re down five percentage points I can tell you the administration has  a problem with that,” said DeFazio. “Actually, we have a big problem with that.”
 
So why the drop?
 
DeFazio said he’s not 100 percent certain for the drop. However, he said he’s fairly certain about one of the contributing factors.
 
“It’s probably because we have a policy where everyone takes exams so there is really no incentive from the exam perspective. They know they have to exams regardless of their attendance number, which is a county policy,” said DeFazio. “The county told us we have to come up with some incentives on our own.”
 
The matter didn’t just materialize in the last few days or weeks. DeFazio said his staff has been looking at this for at least a year as the numbers began to drop.
 
Here’s what DeFazio and his crew have come up with that goes into place at the start of the 2017-18 school year. If a student accumulates five (5) unexcused absences, privileges will be suspended immediately. The privileges include homecoming activities, participation in all sports and clubs and the loss of parking and driving privileges (if you drive, you can't park on the school pass lot) and DeFazio said there could be more.
 
One big of the big parts of the new policy impacts just juniors and seniors. If they have 10 or more unexcused absences over the course of the first and second semester, they won’t be able to attend prom. While that may sound harsh, understanding an unexcused absence is key here.
 
An unexcused absence is one where the student doesn’t show up and doesn’t bring a note in from their parent or doctor explaining why they didn’t show up for school. To avoid any problems, students need to bring notes from their family or their doctor to the office as soon as they return to class, and are expected to be turned in to the office no later than five days after returning to class.
 
But, it’s not just as simple as that. There is a difference – and a rule is now in place – regarding notes from parents/guardians and notes from doctors explaining the absence.
 
For a student with a serious medical issue, a doctor’s note can allow as many absences as needed. Parents’ notes are limited. DeFazio said only five (5) per semester are acceptable. What this does, he said, is makes sure that if you’re missing school you’re missing due to illness and no other reasons.
 
“Last year, we had several kids miss over 30 days of school for something unrelated to anything to do with a medical situation and they still were allowed to take part in all school activities. The school actually allowed that, but it won’t be allowed under the new guidelines,” said DeFazio.  “I know not everyone will be happy with this. This is a point of emphasis to increase attendance and these are the consequences if you don’t follow the attendance requirements and guidelines.”
 
For those worrying about a student with a serious condition such as mono, or recovering for a surgery, it won’ be an issue. DeFazio said a doctor will definitely sign off on that and those are unlimited to how many days away the students need.
 
“There are chronic medical issues that can be validated by a physician,” said BHS Assistant Principal Matt DeMotto. “That won’t be an issue.”
 
This isn’t to make thigs hard on the students, DeFazio emphasized. Rather, it’s to make sure students have the best opportunity to learn.
 
“With block scheduling, when you miss a day of school you’re basically missing two days,” said DeFazio. “If you’re not in school you don’t learn; you can’t learn … Nothing replaces being in a classroom with a good teacher. Period.”
 
DeFazio said last year the absence docket had 21 pages of kids that missed more than 10 days of school. He said that’s roughly 200 kids.
 
“That’s unacceptable,” said DeFazio.
 
DeFazio said people need to heed who have children that miss a lot of school, but like the activities – particularly prom. DeMotto said that if someone spends hundreds of dollars on a prom dress and violates the new policy, it’s not going to change things
 
“We don’t want to hear that someone purchased a prom dress in January. We’re letting everyone know how it’s going to be out of the gate,” said DeMotto.
 
DeFazio said he hopes it won’t impact Homecoming since that’s in September. But if it happens that early, no Homecoming for those students.
 
“We’re not backing down on this. Coming to school is the most important thing. We want them to participate in activities, but barring something unforeseen, which could happen and we’ll adjust, this is how it’s going to be,” said DeFazio.
 
The veteran BHS principal said kids miss today for reasons he can’t understand.
 
“Kids have their parents tell them they can miss because it’s their birthday or that they’ve not missed much so go ahead and go skiing or take a day off and shop. There’s enough time on Thanksgiving, Christmas and the regular days off for you to ski and shop,” said DeFazio. “You don’t miss school to do that.
 
“If you told your parents back years ago, particularly in my house, that you didn’t feel like going to school or just didn’t want to go, there was no option,” he continued. “You were told to get your butt up and get to school.”
 
DeFazio said, for the most part, the majority is still doing fine. However, the slide in the percentage of attendance is something he’s willing to wait to react on. Because of that, the new policy is in place.
 
“We really want parents and students to know we’re serious. We’re going to fix it even though the state says we’re okay above 90 percent,” DeFazio said. “You know what? That’s not okay with us.”
 
Editor's Note: Mark DeFazio is shown above and the school he leads is shown below. In the middle, DeFazio wants that hallway to be filled with as many students as possible.


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