‘Tardy Tank’ putting muscle behind high-schoolers getting to class

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home High School has slashed its number of unexcused tardies in this year.

A year ago, the school had 3,201 unexcused tardies in the first trimester. This year, the school had just 1,448, a reduction of approximately 54.8 percent.

Vice Principal Mark Looney had just three words in reaction to the results: “Amazing. It’s shocking.”

“The administrators and people have made a commitment to the tardy sweeps and getting kids into the classrooms,” said English teacher Tomas Rosa. “We are making it a priority to get kids into the classroom.”

“Each teacher is giving about 10 minutes of their prep period, each teacher that’s on prep,” Looney said. Called “tardy sweeps,” the teachers walk the halls and grounds following predetermined routes for students who should be in class but are late for different reasons.

The teachers move the students to Looney in his B Building office, now referred to interchangeably as the Looney Bin or the Tardy Tank. Once there, they receive a green slip allowing them to enter their next class.

Once tardy, a student may not enter a class without first visiting the Looney Bin and collecting the green slip.

The slips are then compared to a list at the end of the day to ensure that the students went to class. Those who went to class receive an unexcused tardy on their records. Those who did not make it to class receive an unexcused absence on their records.

The Tardy Tank’s doors are open for 20 minutes of each period, and students who are late but did not get swept up may still stop by and receive a green slip allowing them to go to class.

When a teacher keeps a student after class, that teacher may send a message, probably an email to the student’s next teacher, excusing the tardy, Looney said. Students who are excused to be in the halls wear a green pass on a lanyard.

Each trimester, students are allowed up to four unexcused tardies with no consequence, Looney said. Once they have five tardies, the consequences start. For five to 9 unexcused tardies, students must serve a 30-minute detention, which can be served during lunch. For 10 to 14 unexcused tardies, students serve 60 minutes of detention.

For 15 to 20 unexcused tardies, they serve 90 minutes of detention, Looney said. At that point, the school will usually do an intervention. For more than 20 unexcused tardies, students are referred to Chris Hiaasen for further action.

Twice a day, a new automated system notifies parents by phone, email or text when a student is tardy or absent from a class, Looney said.

Except for the first month among freshmen, the number of unexcused tardies all decreased dramatically during the first three months of the year.

Thursday, teachers swept up 12 tardy students in the first period; seven in the second; three in the third; 14 in the fourth; and none in the fifth.

Looney said the first and fourth periods are usually the worst. The fourth period follows lunch.

He noted that students have approximately 192,500 opportunities to be late to class during a typical trimester, multiplying roughly 700 students by 55 days by five periods. After the sweeps, students are late to about 1.7 percent of the total number of classes, down from about 3.5 percent.

Rosa said that campus is big, with three main buildings and several auxiliary buildings spread out.

Freshmen may not know their way around yet, he said, and in other cases, students have a lot of ground to cross to their next classes. They also like to socialize during lunch and breaks. They may run to Speedee Mart or other stores. Some students are drivers, and they may head home on a break to grab something they forgot.

They’re usually tardy when they fail to plan well, he said. Now they have to plan a way to make sure they have their PE shoes, for example.

Some of the tardiness is “just kids that before maybe didn’t take it seriously,” Rosa said. “The numbers are really, really good.”

Before implementing tardy sweeps this year, the school tried different things, like signs with slogans, to encourage students to get to class on time, he said, but they didn’t seem to have much impact.

“It’s (the tardy sweeps) got a little more teeth to it,” Looney said.

“I think it’s done a great job, both for attendance and tardies,” said social studies teacher Jim Costa. “I think the staff’s doing a great job. Everybody’s doing a great job.”

Tardy sweeps were a staff-driven concept, coming from the school’s informal improvement committee, a fluctuating group of teachers who discuss and implement projects to improve their school, Looney said.

Administrators and teachers note a couple of ways the program helps out – or a couple of ways that tardiness hurts students.

“I think if you pay attention to the smaller things, it can have an impact on the bigger things, which in turn, there’s a positive impact on their education,” said Supt. Tom Yahraes, praising the program.

“Let’s say you’re 10 minutes late to a 50-minute class, you just missed one-fifth of the class,” Looney said. That leads to gaps as students miss out on information.

“You can’t learn if you’re not there,” he said.

“We don’t know, but we hope at the end, it’s going to equate to better grades,” Rosa said. “It’s really hard to educate a kid that’s not in your classroom.”

If they miss 10 to 15 minutes, they’re missing out on important information, he said. Then they have to ask, which takes more time.

“You can’t get rolling when the bell rings,” Costa said, when students are tardy. When they’re not, “you can start class without the interruptions of kids coming in late. Academically, it’ll allow us to be more effective for the kids and get our content rolling.”

“We know that there is statistical evidence that with improved attendance, kids are more likely to graduate and their grades are likely to be higher,” Yahraes said. Getting students to class in a timely manner impacts their punctuality. “When I meet with regional business leaders, one of the data points they look at in their new employees is attendance.”

“You can’t hold a job if you show up late to school and work,” Looney said. “Habits are hard to break.”

When tardiness becomes a habit in school, that can translate to a habit that is difficult to break in the workplace after graduation, he said. Being on time to class translates to better “employability scores,” a new assessment tool that students may choose to use to help them as they apply for jobs.

Employees that businesses retain are usually those who have higher attendance rates, Yahraes said. When they let them go, it’s usually those who have lower attendance rates.

Punctuality is more professional, Costa said, and it will help them to be on time when they graduate and go to work.

“I also think it’s good for morale,” Yahraes said. When the halls are clear between classes, “it’s a sign of respect. I think it makes the staff happy. When the students feel the staff is all in, it’s a powerful message we care.”

“It’s showing the kids we care about them and we care about getting them into class,” Rosa said. “We’ve got a staff that’s not letting them get away with stuff they used to get away with. The kids have responded pretty well.”

He hasn’t seen students running to class in the six years he’s been teaching at Sweet Home High School, he said. He’s seen students doing it this year to avoid being late.

It’s had an impact in the classroom too, Rosa said. “It has given us a little bit more direction how to deal with tardies.”

The school still has its “frequent fliers,” he said, but “most of the kids, they realize they don’t want to get to that step.”

They enjoy socializing at lunchtime, and they don’t want to miss it, Rosa said.