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Preston County student support team works to keep kids in school

KINGWOOD — It takes teamwork to make sure as many students as possible are attending school.

“We developed a student support team that has everyone who works to support our students in the county office,” said Laura Shaffer, director of attendance and student support services for Preston County. “So, we have a core team we meet, we work together. They’re teaching me a lot. But I think that teamwork is probably one of the things that we’re working on the most. Just to make sure that we are all on the same page and moving forward.”

Shaffer briefed the Preston County Board of education on the efforts of the student support services team this year at its last regular meeting in October. 

A countywide attendance team with principals, Communities in Schools personnel, counselors and secretaries was established, which then worked on new attendance letters, Shaffer said.

After three unexcused absences, the student gets a letter as well as what Shaffer called meaningful contact — a phone call notifying parents.

“Because it’s easy for a letter to get waylaid somewhere,” she said.

At five unexcused days, there’s another letter and phone call and a meeting is scheduled with the student and the student assistance team. Shaffer said if the student receives special education services, the team asks for an IEP meeting to be scheduled instead.

If a student has been significantly absent, Shaffer said someone or multiple people on the county team make contact with the parents to try and resolve the problem.

“Attendance is never an attendance issue,” she said. “It’s always something else. There’s always an underlying issue. And so we really want to get at those underlying issues.”

If the problem continues, there is a compulsory attendance meeting with Shaffer. 

A school attendance review board committee has been formed because Shaffer likes people to bring their own experiences and resources to the table and “teamwork makes everything work.”  It includes Stormy Johnson, student support specialist, Erin Hess, truancy support specialist, and Deputy Mark Lewis, the school resource officer. 

“This past week, we had DHHR, we had Safe at Home, so we’re developing relationships, building relationships and trying to get them, for all of us, to work together as a team,” Shaffer said.

The prosecuting attorney has also been very supportive, she said. One student was removed from their home because of a truancy issue.

“We have a lot of support with our legal system right now, to move forward. And I just feel like one student not coming to school because they don’t feel like it opens the door for as many students to do that as they want to,” Shaffer said. “So, we’re really working on getting students into school.”

Board President Jack Keim asked if days spent in quarantine counted against students.

Shaffer said not if they’re doing their work.

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