MENDOTA – What is it like to be dean of students for 150 high school freshmen? Mendota High School freshman dean Steve Hanson explained the job in detail at the April 23 board of education meeting.
At the start the 2018-19 school year, a main focus for Hanson and assistant principal Joe Masini was attendance. Hanson pointed out that 16 MHS freshmen came to high school already having a truancy referral, which means they missed more than 10 percent of school the previous year. “A lot of our heavy hitters on attendance are in that group,” he told the board. “Our top four had a truancy referral before they got here. It doesn’t make it any easier but it’s not new to them.”
When school started last fall, Hanson and Masini did house visits with the students on their list of truants. “We would call them, go pick them up,” Hanson said. “It was working pretty well, then we got threatened one day and we shut it down a little bit after that.”
Hanson also formed an SAP (Student Assistance Program) team, which started second semester. The program identifies at risk students in the freshman class and an in-depth analysis is done with the parents, teachers and the student, trying to find out what the problems are. “I think that’s going well, it’s an ongoing process,” Hanson said. “That will continue at the high school into next year and beyond.”
Hanson said he has tried many different tactics to improve attendance including conferences with parents, making schedule changes with students who were not getting along in a particular class, phone calls, truancy referrals, attendance letters, and home visits.
At the beginning of the year, he also started a “Trojan 911” program, which he had done in other schools. “I challenged every teacher to find a student who is at risk and have one positive daily interaction every day,” Hanson explained. “We tried to do that for nine weeks.”
Hanson said it doesn’t cost anything and although it sounds simple, a lot of the at-risk students do not have positive interactions on a daily basis, and those interactions help some students have a reason to be at school. But the program never took off. “It takes an army to do this and for some reason just a few people were doing it - we had a couple success stories - then it just kind of lost its luster,” Hanson said, noting that he would like to try the program again. “I’ve done it other places with great success and I still do it with my student every day. He’s struggling but he’s here every day. It’s powerful if you believe in relationships and I’m a big believer in relationships.”
Even though the program faltered on the first try, Hanson plans to start it again next year saying he should have been more watchful. Rather, he assumed others felt the same way he did and would attack it with the same passion. “I didn’t do a good job of leading,” he said.
As freshman dean, Hanson believes spending time with his students is the most important thing he can do. “I have to get to know them . . . the hardest part with the freshmen, by the time I really know somebody, I’m handing them off,” he said.
Despite the ups and downs, Hanson said freshmen attendance is 94.3 percent, which is definitely better than it would be otherwise. “I’ve picked up kids and hauled them here, Mr. Masini and I have both done that. The SAP, we’re both involved in that. We got truancy involved with a couple kids and absolutely turned around their attendance. It may not be the greatest number but it’s better than it would be,” he said.
As for parent involvement, Hanson said they have talked to all the parents at one time or another. He found that for some parents, education is just not very important. “They tell you what you want to hear,” he noted. “I’ll have a meeting set up with a parent, they don’t show up.”
But Hanson warned that they have to somehow get the parents on board if they’re going to help the students who are truant. “We have to form a team and work together, there’s got to be a hook,” he said. “If we had the exact answer . . . every student is different. You have to take time to figure out every single student.”
ATHLETIC EXCELLENCE PROGRAM
In his role as athletic director, Hanson also discussed survey results from the Athletic Excellence program, which started last fall at MHS. He said despite the fears of some of the coaches, the survey results were really good. With very limited data, Hanson was leery of placing too much emphasis on the initial results, however.
“Our lowest component has to do with patience and understanding, that’s what students feel we’re not the best at,” Hanson said. “Probably understandably so.”
The survey also showed that students think coaches demand hard work, but Hanson disagreed. “Kids rated me high in demands hard work and I thought I was soft as a marshmallow,” he commented.
According to the survey, the students think the coaches are great, and participation numbers are high. “There were more positive comments than negative, maybe they [students] are afraid to say something negative,” Hanson noted. “I think the coaches feel a heck of a lot better about it now than they did. Most were happy as could be when they saw the results. A couple thought they were going to get blasted but didn’t.”
Based on a recommendation by Superintendent Jeff Prusator, the registration fee will remain at $95 next year. The lunch price will increase by 10 cents to $2.85 for students and $3.10 for adults; milk will increase to 50 cents.
Prusator gave specifics on some of the maintenance projects that will take place at MHS over the summer as well as work that will be addressed next year and into the future.
Next fiscal year:
“We celebrated paying off the building this year, now the challenge for this board and future boards is going to be how we maintain it,” Prusator concluded.
The board renewed the 8th grade honors algebra agreement for the 2019-20 school year. Principal Denise Aughenbaugh said this was the first year MHS had 8th grade students come to the high school for math classes. “We feel it’s been a tremendous success,” she said.
Eighth grade transition day for incoming freshmen will be Tuesday, May 7. Students will tour the building, eat in the cafeteria and meet with MHS students and staff regarding school opportunities.
Following closed session, the board rehired Joe Masini as assistant principal and approved a FMLA request for Ron Harrison, custodian.
The board accepted the resignations of Steve Hanson as head boys basketball coach, Stephanie Hansen as sophomore volleyball coach, Cady Schmidt as a paraprofessional and Janet Nagel as a math tutor.
The next regular board of education meeting will be held at the high school on Monday, May 20 at 6 p.m.