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Sting returns kids to class

Superior police teamed with the Superior School District to locate 23 missing high school students last month. Project Truancy is the first collaboration of its kind in Superior. Launched Sept. 13, it encompassed five days of police investigation...

Superior police teamed with the Superior School District to locate 23 missing high school students last month.

Project Truancy is the first collaboration of its kind in Superior. Launched Sept. 13, it encompassed five days of police investigation. Officers were provided with contact information for 40 students who were identified as being no-shows or truant. Then they started making house calls.

By knocking on doors, talking to neighbors and offering police escorts, officers brought 23 students back to Superior High School. Of them, 16 have begun to attend class regularly, according to Superintendent Jay Mitchell.

"In my mind, it's a good thing," he said.

In Wisconsin, districts are tasked with tracking students throughout their education. When children transfer to another district or start home schooling, that has to be documented.

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"If we don't know where some kids are, that goes against us," Mitchell said. "If we can't find truants, they become drop-outs."

Students coded as drop-outs, even if they may have just been tracked incorrectly, count against the school's graduation rate. In the past five years, that rate has fluctuated from 92 percent to a low of 81 percent in 2006.

"Our staying on top of this will help the graduation rate," said SHS Principal Kent Bergum.

"We're being more proactive," Mitchell said.

Before Project Truancy, the district had 63 high school students listed as no-shows or truant, 23 of whom are no longer in the district. That left 40 mysteries to solve.

"It's difficult for somebody in this school district to go out and find kids," Mitchell said. "We don't have a truancy officer."

So they called up local law enforcement late in August.

"We were happy to help," said Capt. Chuck LaGesse of the Superior Police Department.

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Four officers spent 24 hours making house calls. The cost, footed by the district, was a little more than $1,000.

"It more than paid for itself," Mitchell said.

The extra 23 students, who were included in the district's third Friday count, will net $200,000 for the district, 70 percent of which is paid by the state. In the bigger picture, the entire community benefits.

"There's such a social cost in somebody dropping out of school," LaGesse said. "The cost expended to try to get them back to school is well worth it."

District administrators have planned face-to-face talks with these returning students to discuss education options.

"Some of these kids aren't going to graduate under the regular program," Mitchell said.

"How do you really reach out to all students in individual ways?" Bergum asked.

The district has been working on educational flexibility, with alternatives such as taking classes at the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College or getting a general education diploma.

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"Our goal is to create success for these students," Mitchell said.

To access the options, however, students have to attend school. If they don't, LaGesse said, there's a chance a police officer will knock on their door.

Maria Lockwood covers public safety. E-mail mlockwood@superiortelegram.com or call (715) 395-5025.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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