For more than a decade, Ron Pope has headed the Memphis City Schools department responsible for enforcing truancy laws. With the school district trimming its budget and reorganizing several administrative positions, Pope's truancy team may be dissolved.
Who: Eight certified teachers, or "attendance teachers," are responsible for delivering truancy warnings to parents of children with more than five unexcused absences from school. The attendance teachers handle all 190 schools in the district.
What: District administrators recommended last week that truancy and attendance be handled by individual school personnel. Pope estimated the budget for the attendance-teacher program at about $400,000, which includes mileage and gas. Last year, the teachers delivered more than 30,000 truancy notices, and once parents were notified, the department saw a roughly 50 percent correction rate.
Deputy Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, who made the recommendation, anticipates cost savings as well as better attendance rates. "To me, everything is tied to attendance, especially student achievement," she said. "When attendance teachers go up to that door to take a notice to a parent, they really don't know why the child has been out of school. But the student's teachers, counselors, and principals know why he/she is out and are better able to assist them with the underlying reasons for truancy."
When: If the recommendation is approved by the school board, the attendance teachers will be reassigned to new positions in the 2005-2006 school year.
Where: The attendance teachers have been headquartered in the Truancy Assessment Center on Poplar Avenue at Claybrook. Most of their work is done in the field, which can sometimes be dangerous. During Pope's tenure, two teachers have been the victims of carjacking, including 70-year-old Joe Sharp, who was shot last week while delivering a parent warning in North Memphis.
Why: "I think it's more a matter of what's humanly possible for an attendance officer to do," said Pope. "If each one of them worked truancies on 10 schools each day, they still wouldn't reach each one in a timely manner."