Broward County

Broward student’s perfect attendance record falls short of award

Adam Werbin has never missed a day of school from the time he was in pre-kindergarten. He is now graduating high school, and going to UCF, but Broward County has decided against honoring him for his accomplishment because he spent eight years in a private school.
Adam Werbin has never missed a day of school from the time he was in pre-kindergarten. He is now graduating high school, and going to UCF, but Broward County has decided against honoring him for his accomplishment because he spent eight years in a private school. Miami Herald staff

From the time Adam Werbin was 4, he knew his most important job was to go to school every day.

Adam, now 18, took his job very seriously.

He skipped family weddings and teen conventions, took care of himself to avoid getting sick and always made appointments in the afternoon or weekends — allowing him to have a squeaky clean attendance record.

But now, as graduation nears, his efforts to have a blemish free attendance sheet will not be recognized by Broward County Schools because eight of those years were spent in an accredited private school.

“It’s like a slap in the face,” said Adam, who lives in Cooper City and attends Cooper City High School. “It’s just not right.”

His mother, Esther Werbin, has tried writing letters to School Board members, speaking to the district’s attendance committee and reaching out to his old school, David Posnack Jewish Day School.

Nothing has worked.

“It’s like getting the principal’s honor roll and only getting recognized for regular honor roll,” she said.

Adam’s clean record began when he was in preschool, Esther Werbin said. She said going to school became a habit for her son.

She and husband Eddie, who own a shoe store, went to work, and the kids — Adam’s younger brother Danny has a near-perfect record — went to school.

“That’s just the way it was,” she said.

After getting through elementary school with no absences, Adam said he realized that maybe he was onto something when he started middle school.

“Back then it didn’t seem like I had that much more time to go,” he said.

When he transferred from private school to public school in ninth grade, Adam and his mother made sure his attendance record went with him.

So when he was sick, Tylenol was his best friend — sometimes he’d take it before school and during lunch. He said luck played a part in keeping his attendance record clean because “thankfully I didn’t really get sick.”

One time in middle school he came home with a low fever. He went to bed early and woke up the next morning feeling better.

As he got older, he said he reconsidered his decision several times — especially when he had to skip out on fun activities with friends. While his friends would leave early on Fridays to attend weekend Jewish youth group conventions in Orlando and other cities in Florida, he dutifully went to school.

Either his mom would take him after school to meet up with his friends, or he just didn’t go.

On days where other students took off when there was a chance for an excused absence, including Take Your Child to Work Day, Adam still went to school, sometimes being one or two students in his grade. He said he either “twiddled his thumbs,” or helped teachers grade papers.

But he was there. Always there.

Laurel Thompson, the director of student services for Broward County Public Schools, said not giving Adam the Best of Class award came down to the rules. Four years ago, the Broward District Attendance Committee developed criteria for the award as a way to encourage students to come to school.

Simply put, she said, he didn’t meet the criteria, which includes attending Broward public school consecutively.

“Its an unfortunate situation,” Thompson said. “This student has done extremely well, and we are proud of him. We will do everything within the guidelines to recognize his accomplishments.”

The award was developed because the 13-member group made up of teachers, parents and other stakeholders realized the importance of attendance when it comes to learning. In the first year, one student was recognized for perfect attendance. In the second year, one student missed one day, and in the third year one student was recognized.

“Having perfect attendance is an extremely hard thing to do,” she said.

At a ceremony Thursday, three students with perfect attendance will receive the Best in Class Award for attending school 2,340 days. Those students are: Elizabeth Houston of Miramar High School; Laura Perkins of McFatter Technical High School; and Eden Skopp of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The award carries a $1,000 scholarship from the Broward Education Foundation, a Lenovo laptop and an iPad, along with an assortment of gift packages and certificates provided by community and business partners, including Partners in Education, the Miami Marlins, the Miami Heat, BrightStar Credit Union, Applebee’s, Carlin Uniforms, Memorial Healthcare System, Dunkin’ Donuts and Sawgrass Lanes.

Adam will be one of 22 high schoolers to receive a medallion and gift bag for perfect attendance for high school.

In Miami-Dade, district officials said 78 students have perfect kindergarten through 12th grade attendance so far (the school year ends in June). The district recognizes students who attended private schools, as long as there is documentation and the school year is at least 180-days long.

Said Linda Tohar, executive assistant to the head of school at Posnack: “Unfortunately we don’t have a perfect attendance award in our school; therefore, it would be unfair and inequitable to do this for a student outside of the school.”

But for Adam, who will attend the University of Central Florida beginning in June, it’s hard not to be disappointed in Broward schools and in Posnack.

“I worked really hard for this,” he said. “And it’s like they don’t even care.”

Miami Herald staff writer Christina Veiga contributed to this report.