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West Jordan Journal

Joel P. Jensen Middle claims No. 1 place in district with all time low tardy rate

Sep 23, 2019 03:09PM ● By Jet Burnham

Hallways are empty once class starts. (Photo courtesy Joel P. Jensen Middle School)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Joel P. Jensen Middle School holds the record for the lowest tardy rate in Jordan School District, averaging 2.4 tardies per student last year. Compare that to the district average of 10.5 tardies per student. According to Brooke Anderson at Jordan District, JPJMS’s tardy rate is half that of the next-lowest school’s rate.

“Joel P. Jensen Middle School is the gold standard when it comes to getting students in class on time and teaching bell-to-bell,” said Principal Bryan Leggat. “We've had this program working for us for about five years now, and our culture is such that kids just aren't really late to class anymore.”

What’s the secret?

Administrators conduct a tardy sweep, every single period, every single day. When the tardy bell rings, teachers close their classroom doors, locking out late students. Tardy students report to an assistant principal to receive an in-school suspension before they are allowed into class.

“It takes a lot of consistency and some good assistant principals, hall monitors and teachers all working towards the same cause,” Leggat said. “We're already behind with our reading scores and other scores. We cannot afford to even give up one minute of class time to kids just kind of straggling in.”

Even with 900 students, only a few are late to class on any given day.

“The kids recognize really quickly that all of their friends are in class,” Leggat said. “They don't really have anyone to socialize with anyway, so they might as well just be in class, so they don't have to do the discipline.”

Leggat said the program took a few years to really catch on. In 2010, JPJMS’s 770 students had 45,000 tardies. “I don't know if that's even mathematically possible but that's how many on paper they had,” Leggat said.

He began surprising students with random tardy sweeps a few times a week. The number of tardies went down almost 50%.

“We were about 25,000 tardies, which is still so horrible—very embarrassing at this point,” Leggat said.

It was only when administrators set up consistent, hourly sweeps, that the tardy rate went down 90%.

“We’ve gone from my first year with 25,000 tardies to 2,500 tardies,” Leggat said.

Teachers expect all students to be on time, so they begin teaching the moment the bell rings.

“Starting class right at the bell sends students the message that class time is important and cannot be wasted,” said math teacher Cynthia Horrocks. “When they arrive in class on time and are ready to work, I can make better use of class time.”

Paige Dayley, language arts teacher, said teaching bell-to-bell requires her to engage students in work the moment class starts and throughout the entire class period.

“It takes a little bit of effort to plan for the odd bits of time at the end of a lesson, but I definitely feel it's worth it,” she said. “Students know that they need to be in class, and they take it seriously.”

Dayley is impressed with the administration’s thoughtful and effective policies.

“I've had the chance to see four schools across four different districts, and I can say, hands down, that the administration at this school is the hardest working administration I've ever worked with,” she said.

In his eight years at JPJMS, Leggat has targeted other big issues. More than half of incoming seventh graders are reading below grade level. By improving the school’s reading program, students are gaining three to five reading levels in just one year. Through programs such as Z.A.P.! (Zeroes Aren’t Permitted), Catch-Up Lunch and academic tracking, the number of students passing all of their classes rose from 63% in 2011 to 87% in 2019.

The next deficiency to be addressed is numeracy. This year’s goal is for 85% of students to demonstrate proficiency of multiplication facts.

“Many of them knew them at one point in time, but they just have not had to use them in a few years because of calculators,” Leggat said. “So, we're just hoping to bring that knowledge back to them or create it for the first time for those that have never learned those times tables.”

Math teachers are thrilled with their administration’s support for this much-needed focus on basic skills.

“Memorizing math facts and being able to access them quickly makes the process of learning new skills much easier,” said Horrocks. “Students who don’t have their math facts memorized have to focus on the math fact rather than the process of solving an equation. If they get the math fact wrong, which will lead to a wrong answer, they often think that they don’t know how to correctly solve an equation when, in fact, they do.”

Each problem Leggat tackles and each program he initiates brings him closer to his ultimate goal: overturning the once-negative reputation of the school. What’s next? He wants to improve attendance rates.

“I'm proud to work alongside awesome adults at Joel P. Jensen and with great students that are also trying to have a great middle school experience,” Leggat said.