Sunday, September 23, 2007

New position aims to raise attendance rates

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

GRAPEVINE -- As a member of a family of migrant workers, Marina Flores grew up all over the country -- Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, California, Arizona, Texas.

"It was hard," said Flores, now 47. "We didn't realize how hard it was at the time."

But that helps her relate to some students she meets in her new job as Grapevine-Colleyville's attendance interventionist.

"I was a student who moved around and knew what it was like to be all over the country," Flores said. "But you can overcome a little bit of harshness. I do feel that I can relate, especially to the kids who feel that they're a square peg being pushed into a round hole."

The district created Flores' job, which has a salary of $54,390, to help students who are at risk of dropping out or not graduating.

"It's providing additional support for our kids who are struggling," said Superintendent Kay Waggoner. "The greatest focus will be at the high school level. That's where the need will be the greatest."

Flores started work in August. She's rarely in her office, often racing between schools and visiting students at home.

Her priority is to find fifth-year seniors, those who did not graduate last year with the rest of their class. She has a list of 15 to 20. If they're not in school by Sept. 28, they're considered dropouts by the state, and can count against the district's state accountability rating.

Flores said the district will do whatever it takes to help these students finish their coursework, pass required classes or pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

She expects to coordinate with social service agencies and schools to get students the tools they need to achieve those goals. They need their diploma, she said, regardless of the hardships they face.

"That one little piece of paper makes a huge difference in their lives," Flores said. "They don't see that right now."

Flores said she will also help younger students who struggle with attendance. The district's overall attendance rate is 97 percent.

Most area districts don't have a similar position. Some, like Birdville, Arlington and Fort Worth, have truancy officers who are current or former police officers.

"My job is not the truancy officer," said Flores. "I am not out here to police anything. I am an educator."

Flores has a degree in history and elementary education from the University of Texas at Arlington and a master's degree in education administration. She was a teacher's assistant at St. John the Apostle Catholic School in North Richland Hills for six years, and taught in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford district for 11 years.

In H-E-B, she taught first and third grades and worked with special-education students.

Flores is excited about what her new job can become, especially working hand-in-hand with Sharon Greene, the district's social worker.

"What we're doing is helping students to understand how we can do this together," Flores said. "It will help us, but it will ultimately benefit them and help the students be successful in the long run."

Flores said support from the community is key to the success of her mission.

"Put children first," she said, as a message to anyone in the community who has regular contact with children. "Always have respect for education. We're striving to teach and raise our children and to help society as a whole."

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