Smyth County VA schools see improved attendance

United Way of Southwest Virginia partners for Strive for 5 awareness campaign


Marion, VA (October 4, 2017) – Attendance is up in Smyth County, Virginia, and the community is enthusiastic about the results.

Smyth County Schools and United Way of Southwest Virginia partnered this school year to form a public awareness campaign called Strive for 5, aimed at reducing chronic absenteeism. The campaign encourages students to miss five days or less of school during the year.

“The Strive for 5 campaign allows Smyth County to approach chronic absenteeism as a community effort,” Marion Elementary School principal Kimberly Williams said. “It’s helping us spread the word about the impact attendance has on student success.”

In 2013, researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Education showed that missing 10 percent of school negatively affects a student’s academic performance. In Southwest Virginia, 10 percent equals about 18 days in most school districts – about two days a month – and is considered chronic absenteeism.

Jackie Wilson, Attendance Officer for Smyth County Schools said that chronic absenteeism starts early and has long-lasting effects. Poor attendance in from preschool to first grade is an indicator that students may not be able to read at grade level by the end of third grade. Wilson said, “By sixth grade, chronic absenteeism becomes a major indicator that a student will drop out of school, and by ninth grade, attendance is a better predictor of graduation than test scores.”

Travis Staton, President and CEO of United Way of Southwest Virginia, said, “That same research by Johns Hopkins is also showing that chronic absence can be addressed and even reversed when school districts, communities, and policy makers work together to address the underlying causes. Two initial ways we are working together here in Smyth County are in monitoring the absentee rates and implementing this Strive for 5 campaign so parents, employers, and students also see the importance.”

Mike Sturgill, Supervisor of Instruction for Smyth County Schools said, “Improving attendance is not just about improving a student’s grades and learning. It’s also about life – learning the responsibility of going to work every day and being a productive citizen, and this partnership with United Way of Southwest Virginia is already making a huge positive impact on the attitude our students have about attending school every day.”

Data collected from the 2016-2017 school year in Smyth County, showed that 11.38% of students were chronically absent during the first month of school. This school year, data already shows an improvement in attendance division-wide with only 8.87% of students chronically absent during the first month of school – an improvement of 2.51%.

Northwood Middle School is among the schools seeing success through the campaign, says principal Mariann Blevins, who says she is proud of the unified approach to improving attendance and forming good habits.

Kelly Russell, assistant principal at Chilhowie High School said, “Building strong relationships between schools, families, and the community is at the heart of our Strive for 5 initiative. When schools, families, and the community work together, the sky is the limit.”

About United Way of Southwest Virginia
United Way of Southwest Virginia fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Southwest Virginia because they are the building blocks for a good quality of life. Through an initiative-based cradle-to-career approach, United Way of Southwest Virginia is creating sustainable solutions to address the challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce. United Way convenes cross-sector partners to make an impact on the most complex problems in our region. Through collaboration with government, business, nonprofit and individuals, United Way innovates for positive, lasting social change. With a footprint that covers almost 15% of the state of Virginia, United Way of Southwest Virginia serves Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington and Wise, and the cities of Galax and Norton. For more information about United Way of Southwest Virginia, visit