PORT HAWKESBURY: The Strait regional school board (SRSB) is moving ahead with a province-wide effort to improve student attendance.

The board has hired an attendance support worker who will serve students at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School in Antigonish, as well is its two feeder schools, Antigonish Education Centre and Saint Andrew Junior School.

“We’re hopeful that this position, because it is a focus position on supporting students and their families, will be able to identify those barriers that are preventing students from attending on a regular basis, and increase their success in schools,” said Sharon MacCuspic, director of programs and student services for the SRSB.

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In November, the province announced a pilot program to hire 14 attendance support workers to help implement the new provincial attendance policy that came into effect on October 1. Out of the 14 new positions across the province, one was allocated to work within the SRSB. The attendance support workers will be responsible for leading efforts to improve attendance within their assigned schools, in collaboration with students, parents and guardians, staff and community partners.

“It’s certainly our hope that they will be successful in their mandate at that school, and hopefully in the long term that those kinds of positions will be expanded throughout the Strait regional school board,” said MacCuspic.

The attendance support worker was hired prior to the Christmas holidays and the new position came into effect on January 3. At the end of the 18-month program, the province will evaluate the results to inform decisions for future programming.

MacCuspic said the selection of Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School as the hub, or main site, where the new employee will be situated, was made by senior staff in consultation with schools and program coordinators throughout the SRSB.

“We did look at attendance data, which is entered for all of the schools in the board,” said MacCuspic. “We looked at long-term trends in attendance data, and we determined that based on that data, in this current school year, that this school would be the place that we would focus our attention to begin with the one position that we were awarded.”