Max Denning

The Enterprise School District had struggled with low attendance for years, but in the 2017-18 school year, the percentage of chronically absent students decreased 8.2 percent, the equivalent of 39 students.

The reduction in chronic absenteeism isn’t just happenstance. Enterprise School District Superintendent Erika Pinkerton, who is also the principal of the elementary school, said the school district has made concerted efforts to reduce absenteeism. At the elementary school. those efforts have included meetings with the parents of at-risk students, class competitions and establishing a brigade of volunteer fathers to help at the school.

Pinkerton said the first step in addressing the absenteeism issue was creating an “attendance team” consisting of members of the elementary school’s staff. The next step was setting up meetings with parents of children who were at risk of being categorized as chronically absent, which is defined as missing more than 10 percent of school days.

“I just believe bringing it to the front and having those hard conversations initially are what brings the awareness,” Pinkerton said. “I truthfully believe parents have not realized that their child has missed so many days. There was not a system in place besides the report card that you would receive every quarter that would record the student’s attendance. There was no communication between the school and the families.”

Pinkerton was also able to bring in Kayla Hull, who splits her time among all Wallowa County school districts, to help assist the Enterprise School District with its attendance issue. Pinkerton said Hull helped the school district get the message into the hallways that attending school was important.

“Our quota is ‘Seven or less for greater school success,’” Pinkerton said. “That’s what we’re training our kids. To be chronically absent in my school district, you would have to miss 15 days of school. So, we as a staff decided if we can get our kids to miss seven or less days, they’re going to have a solid education.”

With the establishment of the “seven or less” mantra, Enterprise Elementary School also started class competitions for attendance.

“We have a bulletin board that shows each classroom’s weekly attendance,” Pinkerton said. “There’s a competition (and) the classroom who has the best attendance for the month (wins an extra) 15-minute recess. These are things that don’t take money. It’s time and effort, and it pays off.”

One of the most impactful changes Pinkerton made was establishing the Watch D.O.G.S., which stands for “Dads of Great Students.” Pinkerton started the Watch D.O.G.S. this school year after getting the recommendation from the Enterprise police chief, Joel Fish, who had the program at his elementary school growing up.

See more in Monday's edition of The Observer.