Local newspapers aren’t always well-written or put together well. Our local paper’s two-page Opinion section fills is half-syndicated. Naturally, all of its weaknesses are compensated by one fact: it does local news better than anyone else.

I was pleased to read this story, which is well-organized and has plenty of flavor. The pertinent summary: One of our three major local school districts has a superintendent with the fortitude to take the spot of a real student, if only to promote revenue-preserving attendance.

Eighth-grader Makel Martinez picked a bad day to miss school.

Makel and her family found themselves unexpectedly in the spotlight Wednesday as part of an ongoing crackdown on truancy in the Central Unified School District.

To make the point that coming to school every day is critical, Superintendent Marilou Ryder took Makel’s place in all of her classes at Rio Vista Middle School in northwest Fresno. She even ran the required mile in P.E., beating Makel’s previous time of 15 minutes by 60 seconds.

Having a superintendent in the classroom had fewer disruptions than you’d think:

Students were nonchalant about Ryder taking Makel’s seat among them, although throughout the day, she occasionally asked questions of her “classmates.” In the intervention class, she correctly named a general noun — dog — when teacher Mike Kimzey asked the class for an example.

She knows nouns. Impressive. I’d guess that another one of these nouns she knows is “incentive.”

Students with good attendance are rewarded with certificates and prizes, such as free food at the snack bar.

As a rural district, you might expect that Central Unified’s attendance would be hurt by its large land area and generally sparse collection of students throughout the countryside, or the high poverty throughout. Instead, the district has an average of 95 percent of its kids show up each day, beating my district by a full percent.

Ryder wants to improve the attendance rate a full 2 percent. Her “student-for-a-day” attack is only the first, flashy blow, as it will be followed up by her gigantic carrot. To wit:

Schools compete with one another for fewest absences, and get to keep half of the money from improved attendance.

That’s what I call an accountant’s headache. Good thing we’re not accountants.

We are teachers, though, so our question for contemplation: Will this work?


  1. I love the Superintendent being in class as an eighth grader, but wish it was for different reasons. Wouldn’t it be great if it was to experience life as a student so that actual teaching improvements or improvements in the structure of the school day could be implemented? Instead, it serves as a visual designed to raise money… a glorified fundraiser. Too bad.

  2. They’d get such a narrow view of their classes and the quality of the education in their district by entering class as an eighth grader. It would cast the spotlight on exactly one school, even exactly one grade.

    Would showing up as an eighth grader for a day really offer that much insight?

  3. dkzody

    See my letter in today’s BEE for my opinion on this.

  4. Just read it. Well said.

    For those of you curious about what she’s talking about, here’s her letter, reproduced:

    Finally, The Bee prints an article that shows what the schools are up against.

    Usually, The Bee is just ranting and raving against teachers; but the article [April 10] about Central Unified School District Superintendent Marilou Ryder taking the place of an absent student really hit the problem on the proverbial nailhead. Nowhere in that article did you put the blame on the school or the teacher.

    If the schools can get the students to come to class, that is the beginning. If they can get the students to come prepared to learn, then we’re getting somewhere. And if the parents are supportive of the school, then we can accomplish so much.

    We need more superintendents like Ms. Ryder, who are willing to do what it takes to bring attention to the problem with poor attendance. Good for The Bee for printing the story and naming names. Let’s see more such articles.

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