Attendance improves at Woodridge Primary School in Portage

February 25, 2019

Behavior and attendance are improving at Woodridge Primary School thanks to series of initiatives, the school’s principal says.

Salina Thistle highlighted the work of her school’s Positive Behavior Intervention and Support team during a presentation to the Portage School Board on Feb. 11 and on Friday reported that Woodridge is so far seeing fewer office referrals for students and improved attendance in 2018-19.

From the beginning of the school year through Jan. 21, Woodridge had only two students out of 167 miss 10 or more days of school, Thistle said. During the same time frame last year, Woodridge had 11 students out of 154 miss 10 or more days of school.

The positive early returns at Woodridge suggest districtwide measures employed over the past two school years have made a big difference for attendance, Thistle said, including providing classroom incentives, sending letters to families about the importance of attendance at the beginning of the school year, addressing attendance regularly in school newsletters and seeking feedback from parents.

“It’s working because there’s more awareness about the issue among our parents,” Thistle said, “and because the more connections we make with students, the more motivated they will be to attend school.”

In the Portage Community School District, 22.9 percent of elementary students missed 10 or more days of school in 2017-18, down from 27.2 percent the year before, elementary leaders including Thistle had told to the board in July.

Office referrals at Woodridge in 2018-19 have so far declined by 41 percent compared to the same time frame from last school year, the progress relating to PBIS programming that Woodridge has employed since 2011, Thistle said. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs established malleable and non-required PBIS programming for school use in 1997 and, according to the official website for PBIS, such programming is employed in more than 26,000 schools in the nation.

“The broad purpose of having PBIS in your school is to improve social, emotional and academic outcomes for everyone that is involved,” said first-grade teacher Melissa Kane, one of eight members of Woodridge’s PBIS team, which meets once per month. “It is really nice to have the same guidelines and expectations throughout the building and then continuing onto the next grade levels. As a school, we look at our data all across the board and as a team we come up with ideas and solutions to help benefit our Woodridge Primary School family.”

New this year is the “Community Circle,” where teachers spend time every day making sure the students get to know each other better, Thistle said. It was established after Woodridge leaders noticed teachers would sometimes eliminate community-building activities in order to get all of their curriculum materials in.

Other PBIS initiatives at Woodridge include “Fun Fridays,” for which community members are brought into the school to interact with students four times per school year, Thistle said. Such activities — established during the 2014-15 school year — have involved police and firefighters, Portage High School cheerleaders, obstacle courses and karate instruction.

The principal and her staff also highlighted for the board the “calm corners” Woodridge created in each of its classrooms in 2016-2017, and the school’s “mindfulness room,” which was introduced last school year. Calm corners provide students with a “quiet spot” for calming their bodies and minds, Thistle said, while the mindfulness room gives students 10 minutes of access to sensory tools including sand features.

For more information about PBIS programming at Woodridge, visit portage.k12.wi.us/woodridge and select the “Cool Tools” tab.