Alicia Kelly has a contract and a fresh chance to finish high school on time, and if she doesn't graduate it will be because she broke her agreement with Sentinel High School.
The 17-year-old single mother will have to drastically improve her attendance her senior year under a plan that illustrates the new Missoula County Public Schools policy to help students with repeated unexcused absences.
"They went into my schedule and fixed it right there," said Alicia, whose repeated absences this past school year led to the suspension of her spring semester credits. "They rearranged it so it's going to work better for me."
"They" is Sentinel principal Tom Blakely and dean of students Pete Hasquet, who met with Alicia and her parents Thursday morning to hash out a graduation plan.
Before the new policy was put in place last year, students like Alicia - ones with 10 or more unexcused absences, for whatever reason - were simply denied whatever credit they had earned.
But the new policy allows administrators to work directly with students and families to improve attendance and get back on track toward graduation.
Still, Alicia ran afoul of the policy due to absences often caused by the necessity of caring for her child.
The effort is part of a broader MCPS program called Graduation Matters, which is seeking to ensure that all MCPS students graduate on time.
Alicia's case is hardly rare. Last year, more than 100 students at Sentinel High School had credits suspended because of repeated absences.
Those students were given "NG" on their report cards - which stands for "no grade." The credits are suspended, but not denied, until the student and the school agree to a program to improve their attendance. If the student lives up to his or her end of the bargain, the credits can be awarded.
In the case of Alicia - who did the work in her classes despite her absences - those credits will be reinstated if she has fewer than 10 absences in her fall semester at Sentinel.
Blakely even gave the student his personal cellphone number just in case trouble arises.
"If I get sick or day care is closed, he told me to call him directly," she said.
MCPS' counselors are tasked with informing students when their absences become a threat to their academic record.
Blakely would not comment on the specifics of Alicia's case, but said the new policy, which is enforced by a committee at each school, balances the needs to both reach out to students and hold them accountable for their attendance. It also takes into account the reasons why students are absent.
"It's a team decision to a certain extent," he said. "There are kids who miss because of medical absences, or take a trip to New Zealand. It's a whole different situation when a kid just skips a lot or they're unexcused. ... If we pass kids who miss 30 percent of their classes, they're in danger of walking into the work force with the same mentality."
Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at email@example.com.