Major decrease seen in chronic absence at schools

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While students look forward to summer vacation, Cranston Public Schools Data Coordinator Rosemary Burns and her Attendance Task Force are marveling over last quarter’s statistics.

What they see is a dramatic shift in chronic absence statistics district-wide, thanks to their efforts and the work of staff, students and families.

“We are down 29 percent district-wide from this time last year – a huge decrease in chronic absenteeism, and the elementary schools are leading the pack,” she said. “The district has made attendance a priority, raising awareness and communication, and raising interest at the school level. At the half-year mark, we were at 19 percent, so we have made huge progress in the third quarter.”

Burns stated, however, that the work in the area of chronic absenteeism is not done, that there is more progress to be made and more in-depth research to take place, given that the data has now been collected.

“We next need to dig deeper into our data, after this past year. We know now where our problems are, we now need to determine why they exist and try to provide intervention and support,” she said. “We also need to examine our cultural responsiveness. We need an understanding of the cultures of our families when we begin to study the ‘whys’ of our data. We need to be aware of and responsive to our demographics, our economics, and the cultural beliefs of our families so that we can support them and provide real solutions for them. Our goal is to help to empower and support independence for everyone.”

Although Burns’ position is no longer in the school budget, she hopes that the momentum that has been started and the emphasis that has been placed on improving school attendance will not fade.

“There really needs to be a sense of urgency, a sense of continuing and going forward, even without the leadership position in the budget,” Burns said. “The Attendance Task Force is motivated and committed to supporting and continuing the work that’s been started, using the data that’s been collected. A tool kit is being created and interventions have been discussed and some have been piloted.”

According to Burns, the district has recently piloted a “Wake Up Call” program for some schools, which provides families with automated robo-calls. A “Walking Schoolbus” program is still being considered as a targeted intervention for the district in order to assist families in getting their kids to school on time everyday when they are well.

Over the summer, two subcommittees are scheduled to meet to discuss a strategic plan and to plan for September’s Attendance Awareness Month. Schools and community partners will be gearing up to support consistent attendance efforts for families and students. Goals will be set to help encourage the continued improvements for the next school year.

Many of the schools have indicated that, through the use of surveys and discussions, they have effectively implemented one or more strategies at the building level, which has increased the focus on attendance and helped to reduce their rates of absenteeism. Strategies include awards and incentives for perfect attendance, including a focus on attendance in the PBIS program; letters about attendance inside of report cards; friendly classroom competitions; and daily positive messages over the public address system. Targeted interventions have also included advisor mentoring, meeting with school counselors and social workers, and concerned phone calls home when warranted.

As the task force looks ahead to the next school year, creating focused plans for each school, in addition to the district’s strategic plan for improving attendance and reducing chronic absence, is considered a top priority. Including input from families, teachers, students and community organizations, as well as after school programs in those plans, is seen as a critical piece to the puzzle, and a key to continued success.

Recommendations have been made by the task force for the next school year.

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