Leila Beem Núñez
In an joint effort to combat chronic absenteeism in local schools to let every student have the same chances at graduation and post-secondary education, the three local school systems along with other community leaders gathered on Dec. 1 for the first-ever summit on attendance entitled, “Everyone Plays a Role: Connecting Systems of Support.”
The summit, a partnership between Manchester and Tullahoma city schools, the United Way of Coffee, Moore and Warren Counties and the Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition, was held at the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center. The event featured a wide range of panelists and guests, including representatives from the Tennessee Department of Education, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and judicial leaders from Bradley and Lincoln counties. Local education leaders elected and officials were on hand, including Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell and Tullahoma Mayor Lane Curlee.
The panel gave local leaders an opportunity not only to discuss initiatives being taken in throughout Coffee County, but solutions that are being found in other school districts to combat the same problem.
Mary Gilbert, Manchester City Schools counselor at College Street Elementary School, said the summit was a first, joining all three systems.
“Having the opportunity for all three school systems to come together and then to build community support – I’ve heard tremendous feedback already. It’s sparked interest of, ‘Hey, we want to do this next,’” Gilbert said. “[The systems] don’t think of each other separately because they’re all our children. When they say it takes a village, it really takes a village.”
The purpose of the event was to have collaborative discussions on the issues that cause chronic absenteeism in schools, the effects it has on student success and the ways in which it can be fought. Other guests – “systems of support” – included community members such as health care providers and business leaders, who also come into contact with local students, outside of school.
As part of the summit, the “#GetYourSelfieToSchool” initiative was launched, in order to get everyone in the community to encourage students and their families to make it to school every day.
Dr. Clifford Seyler, local pediatrician who practices in both Manchester and Tullahoma, said during panel comments that the roots of chronic absenteeism such as drug use and related family dynamics, must be addressed.
Another such concern brought up by audience members was bullying.
“I’m glad I came here today because I think it’s important that we get a start. One of the things that has to happen is to get better communication between the people who interface with our children, and that’s not happening,” Seyler said.
Coffee County Commissioner Rosemary Crabtree said fighting chronic absenteeism is not only good for the education of local students, but for the local workforce in years to come. Getting children to school every day prepares them for what is ahead, Crabtree said.
“[The summit] is great because if we don’t have the workforce, why would [industry] come here from other countries, from other states?” Crabtree said. “It’s important that we have that and talk about that.”