Erie School District is installing system of swipe cards, kiosks as it targets absences, tardiness at its largest school.
Erie High School is starting a new system to make sure more of its students are at school and get there on time.
The key components are swipe cards and screens.
Under the system, scheduled to be fully operational by the end of March, Erie High School’s 2,142-students each morning will swipe their newly-issued ID cards across one of three mobile electronic kiosks set up in the lobby of the building at 3325 Cherry St.
The kiosks can process as many as 90 swipes a minute. After each swipe, a kiosk will flash the student’s image on a screen — to verify that the swipe worked — and record the time he or she checked in.
Then the student’s parents or guardians will immediately get a text message confirming that the student is at school — and whether the student was there by the morning bell at 8:45. The kiosks will also provide data to Erie High’s centralized attendance center, which tracks truancy, one of the Erie School District’s major concerns as it tries to boost student achievement.
With the new, $36,428 system, Erie High will know, electronically, that “you are here and you are where you need to be,” said the principal, Donny Orlando.
By notifying parents and guardians that a student is late or absent, Erie High hopes to make families more aware of truancy and the need to reduce it. And officials said the kiosk and swipe-card system will help prevent nonstudents from getting into Erie High.
Attendance aids and counselors and other building staff will monitor each of the three kiosks in the lobby and a fourth at the northern entrance to Erie High. No one will be allowed to get past a kiosk unless their official ID is swiped properly. A kiosk displays a warning if a check-in fails because of a faulty ID or other problem.
“That is one of the biggest reasons we got this system, to increase our safety,” said Gary Magorien, the Erie High assistant principal in charge of attendance.
Magorien said using text messages to notify parents and guardians is meant to increase families’ vigilance in making sure their students are at school.
“We are still getting more truancy activity than we would like to get,” he said.
The school district on Sunday started notifying Erie High families of the system via the district’s one-call phone messaging system. Letters also are going out this week about the new system, made by ScholarChip, an attendance-software company based in Hicksville, New York, on Long Island. After about two weeks of testing at the beginning of March, Erie High plans to have all the students using the kiosks by the end of March, Magorien said.
A ScholarChip representative could not be reached for comment, but Magorien said the Erie School District is the first school system in the region to use the company’s attendance software. He said Erie High plans to use the system for proms and other school events, to make sure that only students with tickets, as recorded via their IDs, can get in.
Aiming at a problem
The introduction of the attendance software is the latest in an ambitious program that Erie schools Superintendent Brian Polito introduced as part of the school district’s five-year strategic plan, which the Erie School Board approved in June 2018.
One of the major goals is to increase the attendance rate to 95 percent for 90 percent of the district’s 11,000 students. In 2016-17, before the district adopted the plan, 45 percent of its students achieved an attendance rate of 95 percent, according to the district.
To increase attendance, Polito and his staff focused on Erie High, the district’s largest school and one of the largest schools in the state. In 2018-19, the regular attendance rate at Erie High was 47.2 percent, compared to a statewide average of 85.8 percent, according to state data.
The district hired Magorien, who had taught in the Millcreek Township School District for 13 years, to lead an attendance team at Erie High. He joined Orlando, who is in his first year as principal at Erie High after serving for 10 years as the principal of the Erie School District’s Wilson Middle School.
Working with Orlando, Magorien started an aggressive anti-truancy program, which includes meeting with students, holding conferences with parents and working with two attendance counselors and three attendance aides.
Magorien said he emphasizes to students and families the harm that chronic tardiness can cause. Under state law, 330 “missing minutes” equals one unexcused absence, and three unexcused absences triggers a truancy enforcement process that can lead to a school district bringing a case before a district judge.
“One of the biggest problems we are having with truancy is not absences, but the piling up of missing minutes,” Magorien said.
‘A big operation’
His anti-truancy program has produced results. From September through the end of November, Erie High recorded 12,072 instances of unexcused tardiness, or students arriving late without permission, down from 17,560 such instances for the same period in 2018 — a drop of 31 percent, according to Erie High figures.
The number of unexcused absences at Erie High from September through the end of November was 39,611, down from 69,303 from the same period in 2018 — a drop of 43 percent.
At Orlando’s suggestion, Magorien explored and then proposed the use of the ScholarChip attendance software, used in schools across the United States, as a way to reduce truancy further. The Erie School Board in August approved the $36,428 purchase of the system, which Magorien and his attendance specialists have spent the past several months studying and preparing to implement.
“This is a team effort,” Magorien said. “It is a very big operation.”
Polito said he is pleased that the Erie High staff came up with the ScholarChip proposal on its own, which he said is “a great example of the buildings taking ownership” of issues.
He said the district will consider using ScholarChip at other schools based on the results at Erie High. But Polito said Erie High has particular attendance challenges because of the number of students and the amount of work needed to record attendance data in an analog fashion — a process that the the ScholarChip process is designed to streamline.
“We wanted to try it up there with the size of the building,” Polito said. “There are a lot of issues up there with attendance. It is a very paper-heavy process.”
He said he likes that the attendance software increases communication with the text messages, and that the screening process is designed to enhance safety.
“With 2,000 kids entering that building, there is always the chance that someone who shouldn’t get into the building could,” Polito said. “This really eliminates the issue.”
Added security is a big benefit that Erie High School junior Jakyria McClendon said the ScholarChip software brings to her school. The 17-year-old already received her student ID and used it this past week to demonstrate how the kiosks work.
“It is a good safety thing,” McClendon said. “It helps them keep track of who is at a school.”
For Orlando, the Erie High principal, the ScholarChip program will help his school achieve its core mission for students.
“This is very important,” he said. “To educate them, they have to be here.”
Contact Ed Palattella at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNpalattella.