AURORA (AP) This year, John Barry offered congratulations instead of warnings.
For the seventh year in a row, the Aurora Public Schools superintendent joined school board members and district truancy specialists to knock on doors at homes across the district. The trip was part of a larger effort to curb truancy and to convince habitually absent students to return to school through direct, one-on-one contact.
The annual event has become a staple of Barrys tenure as superintendent, and he said hes hopeful the door-knocking campaign will continue after he leaves the office at the end of this school year.
As Barry, Board President JulieMarie Shepherd and other district officials started making the rounds through north Aurora neighborhoods Feb. 5, they had to adjust their talking points.
At the first three houses the district officials visited, surprised parents informed the APS officials that their elementary school students were in school, that the districts efforts to get their habitually truant kids back into the classroom were paying off.
Im glad hes in school today, Barry told one mother as her other young sons looked on. He went on to outline resources available through the district, and insisted that APS administrators care about your children.
Even though this years door-knocking campaign yielded hopeful results, truancy remains an issue at APS and other districts across the state. Last year, more than half of the schools in APS reported students who were habitually truant. According to state law, thats any child between 6 and 17 whos had four unexcused absences in any one month or 10 unexcused absences during any school year.
But Barry pointed to steady gains made in truancy rates since he started as APS superintendent in 2007.
Since the 2006-07 school year, the percentage of habitual truant students in the district dropped from 23.2 percent to 16.4 percent during the 2011-12 school year. Of the 21 students contacted during last years door-knocking campaign, 12 students improved their attendance and 11 students improved their grades.
Were making continuous progress, Barry said. Of the 112 students in the (truancy) program, 61 percent showed a reduction in their number of unexcused absences; 39 percent of those students improved their grades in 2011-12.
Before the APS officials set out to knock on doors, Lisa Woolman, an 18-year-old senior from Hinkley High School, addressed district staff and media members. She talked about early high school memories of cutting class, ducking school cops and an addiction to a sense of false independence.
Those habits have changed, Woolman said.
Im a senior now, four months away from graduating. I even made honor roll last semester, she said. I may have started school on a rough note, but now I know I can do this.