SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The largest school district in Missouri is working to ensure its students aren’t falling through the cracks during the unpredictable school year.
Springfield Public Schools (SPS) saw enrollment drop 1,700 students before school began during the Fall, but attendance has stayed around 95%.
Alison Roffers, the coordinator of Counseling Services for SPS, said as many students traded in their desks for a seat at the kitchen table, other parents opted for homeschooling.
“Schools are continuously trying to make contact with students that are not engaging or maybe are not performing to the level that they once were,” said Roffers.
In the midst of an ever-changing learning landscape, how does Springfield Public Schools keep track of each of its 23,000 students? Roffers said dedicated staff called attendance officers tackle this difficult job.
Attendance officers are people who conduct well-being checks on students who may be falling through the cracks. Armando Johnson, a local parent and teacher at Central High School, is a part of the effort.
“I was tasked a lot of times with finding, talk to their parents and try to go out to a house because students did not have internet and their parents didn’t know how to ask,” said Johnson. “It’s a big thing, and there were a lot of kids. There are kids now who we are still trying to locate. And I remember calling a former student who might know this student, like ‘Hey, have you seen them?’ And it’s wild.”
Roffers said there comes a point when there is not much more the district can do, which puts more pressure and importance on mandated reporters.
“If the concern is for a student’s safety, then any mandated reporter would need to make a hotline call,” said Roffers.
Those hotline calls go to Missouri’s Children Division. In some cases of abuse, the Child Advocacy Center gets involved.
“You know, less than 20% of those don’t disclose their abuse. When they do disclose their abuse, they often only do it one time,” said Amy Hathcock, the deputy director of the Child Advocacy Center. “If you’re their trusted person that they reached out to, and you don’t believe them, or you don’t report it, that was the chance they took.”
Hathcock said teachers make up about a fourth of hotline calls made, and there are warning signs of abuse to look out for.
“If they are seeing a significant change in behavior, maybe grades significantly drop,” said Hathcock. “A straight-A student would now not making passing grades. It can be an indicator that something’s going on in your life, and that’s when you should ask questions. You know, not everyone is safer at home.”
SPS said it conducts annual training for recognizing signs of abuse, mental health awareness and spotting possible learning disabilities.