Solutions require action at the district level, at each school site and by parents and school communities. The first step for all of us is to look at the chronic absentee maps mentioned above and the accompanying school by school listings to understand the magnitude and urgency of SDUSD’s attendance problem.

What the district is doing

 

Creating immediate attendance incentives. GAME ON! is a 9th grade attendance incentive program being piloted in five high schools this year. The program gives awards for improved attendance, ranging from passes to the head of the lunch line to iPods. It reaches out to parents to help their child come to school and stay in school. The goal is to implement GAME ON! district-wide in September 2009.

Identifying system problems and creating solutions. A cross-program team has completed an examination of structures and processes across the district. Its recommendations will be finalized in March 2009 and begin to be implemented immediately.

The team focused on key areas and asked specific questions:

  • Attendance policies. Are they clear and up to date and do they support practices we know to be effective? In answering these questions, the team will complete its revision of our attendance policies and procedures in March 2009.
  • Attendance data monitoring. Are we keeping accurate lists of who is and is not in school? Do we have effective mechanisms for reaching parents and students? Are we using them?
  • Prevention and intervention strategies—
    • Do we effectively communicate the importance of attendance to families and students?
    • Do our counselors have the resources, knowledge, and support to intervene effectively? With parents at the elementary level? With students and parents at the middle and high school levels?
    • Are we effectively using intervention tools? For example, by law, California students must be in school until they are 18. Under the law, chronically absent students can be referred to the district’s Student Attendance Review Board (SARB), which can lead to needed services and support for students and families.
    • How can we intensify our truancy monitoring efforts to notify parents when students are not in attendance in our schools?

 

 

What each school can do


Make attendance a top priority issue. Schools with attendance problems need to highlight the issue and make it everyone’s priority.

Analyze the problems and brainstorm solutions. SDUSD’s Fay Elementary School raised its attendance rate from 95% to 97% in the first three months of the 2008-2009 school year with just such an approach. Staff identified six problems and charted solutions. For example, one problem was that no one was taking proactive steps when a student accumulated too many absences. The solution was ensuring that the attendance clerk was notifying the counselor when she noticed excessive absences and providing the counselor with attendance reports. That led to the counselor’s meeting with parents, explaining the SARB process, and offering assistance and support.

 

What parents and communities can do


Parents are key to getting kids to school. Parents need to understand clearly that students who miss class, miss out on learning. Across languages and cultures, parents need to hear that higher attendance leads to higher achievement. They need to hear that English learners acquire the language faster when they are in school daily.

Community groups can help spread these messages. Groups can partner with the district, using materials from SDUSD’s Every Day Counts! campaign, available online in several languages and separately tailored for parents of elementary, middle, and high schools. School-community partnerships can also help identify and support parents who need transportation assistance or other kinds of services to ensure their children are in school.

It is also important that parents know that excused absences, for such reasons as vacations, illness, or medical appointments, are nonetheless categorized as absences for purposes of computing average daily attendance. In short, when students are absent, school funding as well as learning suffers.