In Race for Attendance Goal, It's a Close Shave

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One man's willingness to sacrifice his whiskers appears to have helped a troubled elementary school to move toward what once seemed to be an impossible goal--an attendance rate of 95 percent, the level of other schools in the district.

Harold Jones, the principal of Allapattah Elementary School in Miami, said many students have expressed curiosity about what he would look like without his bushy beard. That provoked an idea. ...

Mr. Jones struck a deal with the students at the start of the 1983-84 school year. If they could increase their attendance rate to 95 percent, he said, he would allow them to give him a public shave.

The first grading period of the year ended Nov. 3, and the students fell short of the goal by a fraction of a percentage point; the attendance rate for the school's first term was 94.79 percent. Mr. Jones has renewed the offer for the next marking period, which ends Jan. 10.

The beard-chopping incentive is one of many innovations Mr. Jones has used since coming to Allapattah for the 1979-80 school year. At the time, the school ranked 152 among 174 Dade County elementary schools in attendance, with a rate of 90 percent. The school also was on probation for failing to meet the minimum state standards for students' test scores.

Perhaps the biggest problem, Mr. Jones said, was that the students lacked any school spirit that might induce them to work hard. "The image students had of school was pretty negative," Mr. Jones said, "and I decided that just because we were an inner-city school is no reason for us to do so poorly."

Mr. Jones found that all students showed up when a movie was shown, so he asked teachers to increase their use of movies. He offered cafeteria incentives--cookies, candy bars--for good student performance. He and many teachers took photographs of the students and hung the pictures on hall walls. And he asked teachers to wear T-shirts bearing the school's symbol, a cobra, on designated days.

The result, Mr. Jones said, is a new attitude among students. Scores on the mathematics and English tests given to 3rd- and 5th-grade students have jumped from below 70 percent to the high 80's and low 90's, he said.

Mr. Jones said a statement by Bill Russell, the former professional basketball player and one of his personal heroes, explains why the beard-trimming incentive appears to be working.

"Someone once asked Bill Russell about his beard," Mr. Jones said. "He said the beard was just a beard. Everyone can have a beard, but it's how you carry yourself that counts. ... We have taught our kids to be positive."

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