News & Events
It is preferred that parents/guardians come to the office to check their children out of school; however, a total of 3 parent notes and/or phone calls are permitted each semester, all of which are subject to administrative approval.
After the 3rd notification by note and/or phone call, a parent/guardian MUST check his/her child out in person. All check-ins/check-outs are subject to the approval of the principal/administrator.
Lauderdale County School System Parent/Student Handbook
WATERLOO -- When Gary Dan Williams took over as principal at Waterloo School last January, he established his priority right away: attendance. "It was the obvious starting point," Williams said. "We had to increase attendance if we were going to succeed as a school."
Waterloo School serves students in prekindergarten through 12th grade and has 340 students. To add perspective to the student attendance dilemma, consider the following information based on average daily attendance, which is taken 20 school days after Labor Day:
- There were 859 absences in 2015 compared to 602 in 2016, representing a 30 percent decrease.
- There was a 36 percent reduction in students with five or more absences.
- The number of tardies also dropped from 239 to 143, a 34 percent decrease.
Williams, who took over as principal in January after having been the Muscle Shoals career technical program director for six-and-a-half years, said there was one prevailing thought when he arrived at Waterloo. He had to get students and parents to buy into his plan to raise attendance, thus raising academic standards.
"The first order of business has to be getting kids to school," he said. "When I looked at the (attendance) numbers, they weren't good. But I knew they could improve. I knew we had to offer incentives for the students to take school seriously, to want to be there." Williams formulated a plan, and started out by talking to students and their parents about the importance of regular attendance. Gradually, both groups started coming around, he said, adding that the school is committed to following the law on dealing with unexcused absences.
This could result in parents being turned over to the court system. "We didn't want to rely on threats to raise attendance, but we wanted them to understand what all was at stake when kids don't show up for school," he said. "We started offering incentives at school for the students to be here, like ice cream parties for the younger students and a reward period during the day for high school students who get snacks and drinks."
Throughout the school there were attendance reminders of some type, be it a sign or a bulletin board dedicated to the theme with a catchy message. When school resumed in August, the difference was visible. "There were visibly more kids at school and it was obvious," Williams said. The 34 percent drop in tardies reported earlier this month, Williams said, has also been a point of celebration.
Dacota George, a 17-year-old senior at Waterloo, had 46 tardies last school year. So far this year, he has had three, and he says those are for "legitimate reasons."
"I guess I just listened to what Dr. Williams had to say," George said. "I finally realized I've got to be more responsible, and get to places on time because the real world is coming at me quick, and I hate the thought of not graduating.
"(Williams) just talked real straight forward to me about all the reasons why I need to be responsible toward school, and how it will help me in the long run," added the senior.
It's a message that Williams has committed to spreading schoolwide. So far, the students are responding.
Superintendent Jennifer Gray said Williams's emphasis on attendance and communication with parents is working. "It's a cause and effect thing," she said. "When you're at school, achievement tends to go up. There's a renewed focus on attendance, and from increased attendance other good things flow. That's what we're seeing at Waterloo."
Fifth-grade teacher Hannah Hubbard said she and her co-workers have plenty of incentive to work hard to help increase attendance. "Two years ago I had four students with more than 30 absences each," she said. "There's an obviously strong correlation between absenteeism and academic performance. It's hard for teachers to find time to catch those kids up on everything they've missed when they're out that much, especially in math because that's the area that's changed the most."
Hubbard said it's a new day at Waterloo School and attitudes of students have changed. "Parents are being held accountable and the kids are wanting to be here," she said. "Dr. Williams is a motivator and decided this attendance issue has to be addressed. Parents even come in for meetings now to discuss their children's attendance. Rewards for test scores are given, and for those who meet attendance goals. There's an excitement in this school now that I really can't explain." Hubbard simply defers to her class statistics as proof of the change. "At the end of the first nine weeks, 11 of my 24 students had perfect attendance," she said. "I've never had numbers like that. It's making a difference."
lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com or 256-740-5735. Twitter@TD _LSRickman.