County schools earn state honors

The numbers don’t lie. While chronic absenteeism continues to be a problem across this region, Lunenburg County schools have the answer. So far this school year, chronic absences have gone from 30.1% to 13.63% in the district. It’s an impressive effort, the best by far within both Central and Southside Virginia, one that Superintendent Sharon Stanislas says comes through everyone working together. 

“The success of the program can be attributed to the coordinated efforts of the Attendance Committee (consisting of the central office and building level administrators), school staff, students, and parents,” Stanislas said. 

District officials have clear requirements and expectations for their students. And that’s backed up by parents, who help enforce the rules. That work, especially at Central High, is one of three programs that earned Lunenburg County Public Schools recognition on Monday from the Virginia School Boards Association. 

Every year, the Association sends out its ‘Showcases for Success’, spotlighting 43 school districts out of the 132 operating in Virginia. Lunenburg County was one of those 43 this year, in the 28th edition of the ‘Showcase’. 

“In response to the escalating rates of chronic absenteeism, administrators at CHS recognized the urgent need for intervention,” the Association statement read. “Under the leadership of Principal Shelly Howell, Afterschool Administrator Megan Martin, and Attendance Clerk Cameron Matthews, proactive measures were implemented to engage families and promote attendance.”

WHAT CAUSED THE CHANGE? 

So what triggered the changes for Lunenburg schools? District officials point to a number of projects, all instituted this year. That includes personalized outreach to families of students with attendance issues, not just warning of the problem, but encouraging them to allow the kids to stay after school. Lunenburg County has an after school attendance recovery program set up. 

Through that program, students have the opportunity to regain missed instructional days and seat hours. Did you miss the bus and got to school too late for a class? That’s ok. Stay after school and you can make up that time, getting instruction and missed assignments. 

Beyond that, Central High has put in place several monthly, rather than quarterly, incentives to encourage regular attendance. We’re not talking about extremely costly activities here. It’s stuff as simple as student vs. staff games and themed social events. 

“These initiatives have yielded significant results, with chronic absenteeism declining from 29% to 9.74% from last year to mid-year this year,” the Association report said. 

To put that in perspective, 10% chronic absenteeism, that is, a student missing 10% or more of classes, is considered great. What the Association report praised is that Central High “has fostered a positive atmosphere where students are motivated to attend regularly, spurred by the prospect of engaging in the monthly incentives.”

It’s something the Association sees as able to be sustaining over time, not just as a one and done effort. 

OTHER PROGRAMS PRAISED

The Association also took note of two other programs taking place this year in Lunenburg schools. The district currently has a growing Hispanic population, but one where some students don’t exactly understand English. As a result, the district faces a significant need for translation services on a regular basis. 

To address this, Central High has established what’s known as the Central Charger Language Liaisons, a group of bilingual students who volunteer to help their classmates. These student volunteers offer their services during elective classes, ensuring minimal disruption to their academic schedules. Teachers can also request assistance by sending a chat message to the Language Liaison via school email, making things quick and efficient. The Liaisons are also deployed to classrooms as needed, where they provide assistance to Hispanic students and teachers before returning to their own classes. It’s been such a success at Central High that now the program is expanding to several division-wide events. Liaisons translate during parent-teacher conferences, open house, as well as Kindergarten Registration Day and Preschool Recruitment Day. 

And finally, there’s the Charger Market. This is an operation teaching students how to print and then providing those printing services for the division. They’ve since branched out to offer graduation printing packages for parents and even sports banners for Lunenburg recreation leagues. The Association report pointed out they were impressed with what they saw. 

“These comprehensive services encompass the production of banners and yard signs,” the report states. “The pricing structure for these offerings is meticulously determined by students, taking into account the cost of materials and associated expenses. Additionally, a robust order management system has been implemented to efficiently track and fulfill orders. Students are actively engaged in all facets of this enterprise, from managing point-of-sale transactions to overseeing production and distribution processes. Orders are processed promptly, with a commitment to delivering completed orders within three business days. The revenue generated from these services serves to offset the costs associated with procuring supplies and sustaining program operations.” 

LOOKING BACK AND AHEAD

All of this happened within the current school year, with the Association report recognizing Dr. Stanislas and her team for their work. The Dispatch asked Stanislas what this meant for her, how she came in as a first-year superintendent and was able to help drive these accomplishments. Stanislas said it comes down to the hard work of everyone at each school in the district, making this happen. 

“I am deeply humbled and proud of the accomplishments of all of the schools in the district. It reflects the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in the educational process, from teachers to administrators, to support and operational staff,” Stanislas said. “This recognition validates the commitment of the entire school community to create a positive and supportive environment to ensure students growth and success. My first year as superintendent in Lunenburg County has been truly blessed with a supportive board, dedicated staff, students, parents, and community partners. I am deeply appreciative of the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders. “We are stronger together.”