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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

MPS Honors Families With Most Improved Attendance Records

Rachel Morello
MPS Regional Superintendent Reginald Lawrence II (right) hands out attendance awards Friday, as liaison coordinator Anita Sparks calls winning students and families forward.

The end of the school year usually comes with a few sets of awards.

Valedictorians are honored at most graduations. Athletic teams pick their MVPs.

But in the Milwaukee Public Schools district, school leaders are recognizing a different group of winners this year: the students “most improved” in terms of attendance.

Earlier this school year, we brought you stories about the issue of truancy in Milwaukee’s public schools.

The district worked toward an attendance goal this year of 95 percent. A big part of that initiative was helping individual families identify why they weren’t getting their kids to school, and then finding resources to solve the problems.

MPS hosted a ceremony Friday to congratulate the families who improved their attendance the most. Each honored family sat with their school principal at one of the round tables dotting a decorated banquet room downtown.

MPS superintendent Darienne Driver thanked everyone.

“Without all of you, there is no MPS,” Driver said. “Understand how much we appreciate all of your partnership in working with us making sure your young people are successful.”

For these families, attendance had once proved a big challenge – no matter how much they wanted their kids to make it to class.

“She had really serious asthma problems,” said Angela Jefferson of the roadblock keeping her 11-year-old daughter, Angelena, from regularly attending Hampton Elementary. “I feel that attendance is important, and with them starting off young with being on time it helps them as they continue to grow up."

READ: MPS coordinates with community organizations to find truant students

For the Jeffersons, like a lot of families at the banquet, the school district’s new regional attendance liaisons played a big role.

Because MPS set its 95 percent attendance target, the district hired 30 of these part-time liaisons to work specifically with families whose kids missed too much school. The charge: help parents identify the problem and link them to helpful resources.

In some cases, the job meant coordinating alternate transportation or simply being a cheerleader for the kids. For student Angelena Jefferson, she says her liaison, Ms. Frankie, served as a link between her family and school leaders.

“It shows that they really care a lot about me and the attendance, and they did so much to help me,” Angelena reflected.

Angelena and her mom accepted their attendance award Friday afternoon, along with 54 other families. Each had their own story of struggle – with reasons ranging from medical, such as asthma, to a change of residence or family situation.

Some students moved the dial from as low as 60 percent attendance up to the mid-90 percent range.

LINK: See the state of Wisconsin’s rules about school attendance

Matthew Boswell, the district’s incoming director of student services, thanked the kids and their parents for their perseverance and determination in making a commitment to school.

"It shows that they really care a lot about me and the attendance, and they did so much to help me."

He pleaded with families to spread their success stories.

“Parents, I need you to provide parental pressure,” Boswell said. “Any parent in your neighborhood, any parent at your place of employment, any parent at the barbershop, I need you to pressure that parent to make sure their child, their nephew, their cousin, niece, neighbor is in school every day.”

“Make it happen!” he added, to rousing applause.

Boswell closed his remarks by asking the adults in the room to whoop it up “louder than they would at the NBA finals.”

The response was loud enough to make every kid in the room feel like an MVP.

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