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MCISD using mentor program for truancy

MCISDlogo_TNMISSION — District administrators for the Mission Consolidated Independent School District (MCISD) said they anticipate helping truant students with a cellular phone program that should enable the district to collect on its full average daily attendance revenue.

“It’s a proven truancy reduction program,” said Anna Lissa Gessner, Safe Schools-Healthy Students project director.

The district’s vendor, Aim Truancy Solutions out of Austin, is the only company offering the service, which uses one-on-one contact with students to educate on responsibility, the benefits of good choices with interaction with the students up to eight times a day.

The program will start in Mission high schools.

According to Aim Truancy Solutions, the cell phone program will be able to locate students via the Internet, and will serve as a reminder to the student of the program’s boundaries while helping them opt out of negative peer pressures.

Gessner said Aims Truancy Solutions has helped several school districts improve their attendance rates by 93-97 percent within the program’s first year implementation.

“This will help the students that are out there” achieve scholastic success, Gessner said.

For now, the program, which board trustees approved at their Wednesday meeting, will be funded through a grant, which pays the $800 cost per student, up to 300 students. By 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years, the grant will continue to pay for 200 and 100 students per year, respectively. In the 2014-2015, MCISD will be expected to pay for the program. By that time, Gessner predicts the program will be successful enough that this district will have a small number of target students.

Mission schools’ truancy officers will meet with parents and suspected truant students before they head to truancy court to determine the reasons for the student’s absences.

“These are kids that are more hard-knocks, that have obstacles the school may not know about,” she said of preliminary mentor work with students.

To identify students, officials will examine a list of students with truancy problems to determine if they qualify for the program.

“We’re going to stop the need to go to court first,” she said.

Additionally, in looking at students, officials will determine if some truant students have legitimate excuses; often times, parents don’t know to ask for excuses from doctor’s appointments, she said.

MCISD high school principals said they were supportive of the program.

“I think it’s long overdue we do something to address truancy,” said Veterans Memorial High School Principal Patricia Masso said. “Students are becoming wiser to ways in being truant…the collaboration is greatly needed. Sometimes we can’t reach the parent.”

In other action, MCISD trustees voted in favor of uniforms at the elementary level, effective in the 2011-2012 school year. District administrators said they were still working with local vendors on the cost, but in an interview said the cost could be as low as $5 per shirt. Specifications as far as color, the type of shirt and the type of pants allowed will be set by each campus.

In April, board trustees approved a request to survey parents on the proposed uniforms, where about 83 percent said they were in favor and 16 percent said they were not in favor of uniforms. MCISD officials said about 73 percent of the parents responded to the survey.

Parents will be notified of the changes at registration and before the end of the school year, officials said.

Officials also voted to continue negotiations on the district’s medical and dental insurance plans with current vendor, Aetna, will seek proposals from outside firms for a better rate. Initially, Aetna’s increased rate was at seven percent, but officials said they were working with the insurance group to look at different options for a lower rate.

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