Columbia Public Schools Concerned About Attendance Rates

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COLUMBIA - Columbia Public Schools (CPS) is working toward increasing school attendance rates.

CPS was in front of the Mayor's Task Force Wednesday night and discussed getting kids to go to school.

Dr. Peter Stiepleman, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education, said the meeting was a great opportunity to discuss the current status of Columbia schools. "I just see this as the beginning," he said.

Dr. Stiepleman said they are constantly discussing free and reduced lunches. But based on the information presented tonight, he was able to show the Mayor's Task Force that those who qualify for free lunches the most are at-risk children. "Most of them come from fragile homes so what are we going to do as a community to support them?" he asked.

Within the last 10 years, Columbia has improved by providing 43 percent of children with free or reduced lunches, up from 25 percent, and according to Dr. Stiepleman right now it is probably around 45 percent.

"The fact that our achievement has been somewhat flat means we've worked really hard to stem what has really been a challenge for us," he said. "Poverty in this community is the biggest challenge. Our investment in early childhood education is going to be paramount. Not just by our school district but by our community."

Members of the Mayor's Task Force expressed concern for their children as well.  "There is an army of parents that want to participate in this process," said Tyree Byndom, a member of the Mayor's Task Force.

The three main concerns of CPS are:
1. Are kids ready for kindergarten?
2. Are kids reading at grade level by third grade?
3. Are there easier transitions for at-risk kids in fragile homes into and out of middle school?

Dr. Stiepleman says the next step for CPS is to transition from looking at individual students to looking at what the institution and entire school system can do better.  He also wants to increase the number of students in AP courses.