School-skip bill would put onus on Hub parents

St. John Barned-Smith | 11/25/2008, 3:35 a.m.

And while the Waterbury district is diverse — black and Hispanic students make up about two-thirds of the student body — Boston’s schools are even more so, with minorities comprising about 85 percent of total enrollment.

“It’s not an exact replica of Waterbury, [but the program is designed] so the court can deliver a wakeup call to parents about their child not attending school. … It’s not about locking them up. It’s about intervening in a family situation and delivering services to the whole family,” said Connolly.

Under Brunnock’s program — the idea for which was sparked by a plan implemented in school systems across Rhode Island, he said — parents of chronically truant students meet with a probate judge in schools to assess the causes of their absences. Together, they look for ways to improve attendance, such as after-school tutoring and other means.

“[Students participated] in a voluntary after-school tutorial,” Brunnock said. “We provided whatever the particular need of the student was.

“They were provided transportation home and they were provided a snack — and we identified five or six of the most significant issues [causing their truancy].”

Parents then met with Brunnock on a regular basis.

“A fairly significant [number] said, ‘Thanks for coming, we needed help,’” he said. “The clinic and all, this is completely voluntary.

“I know from dealing with this and seeing reactions from parents, it’s going to help [students’] progress in school,” the judge added. “With that assistance, it makes a situation where you’re empowering your students to do well.”

Connolly’s plan coincides with new actions by the BPS to also lower truancy rates. The system’s truancy center is designed to work with students who have already dropped out or been chronically absent, and assists with credit recovery and counseling services.

“Boston Public Schools’ position has been that we are open to learning about other communities’ approaches to improving attendance, recognizing that what works in another city or town may or may not work here in Boston,” BPS spokesperson Duggan wrote in response to questions about Connolly’s proposal.

However, Connolly is confident in the plan’s viability.

“I’m sure there will be bumps in the road that need to be ironed out, … [but] we have to figure out how to get programs that work,” he said.