John Monfredo: Worcester Schools Launch Attendance Campaign
Saturday, August 24, 2013
The two leading partners across the nation on this endeavor have been America’s Promise Alliance and Attendance Works. The former is an organization that brings together more than 400 national organizations dedicated to improving the lives of children and focuses upon dropout prevention. Attendance Works is a national organization dedicated to improving the policy, practice, and research surrounding attendance.
Dr. Boone will be holding a press conference on August 27 at 8:00am at the Chandler Magnet School to present the district vision and to deliver an increasingly urgent message about the importance of coming to school each day.
At the press conference will be members of the attendance committee, which includes community partners from Department of Youth Services, Department of Children and Families, Oak Hill CDC, United Way, Latino Education Institute, Child and Youth Readiness, Inter faith groups, DCF, Head Start, Worcester Public Schools Wraparound Coordinator, Child Study, and a host of other agencies as well as children from Worcester Chandler Magnet School.
The month of September will also have a number of initiatives for the children and families in the Worcester Public Schools as each school strives for the best attendance. In addition, at the press conference Mayor Joseph Petty will read a proclamation addressing the issue of Attendance Month.
The Worcester Public Schools, as with all other urban centers, does have a chronic absenteeism problem. Approximately 15% of low-income students system-wide were absent over 10 % of the time last year. According to research and some common sense one of the most effective strategies for providing pathways out of poverty is do all that it takes to get students in school every day. This alone, even without improvements in the American Education System, will drive up achievement, high school graduation, and college attainment rates. The campaign needs to affect all grade levels for in a nationally representative data set, chronic absence in the kindergarten was associated with lower academic performance in the first grade.
This campaign is not only for September, but for the entire year for the Attendance Committee, chaired by Chief Academic Officer Dr. Marco Rogrigues. The committee will continue to meet and develop strategies for dealing with this issue. Research does state that chronic absence can lead to third graders unable to master reading, sixth graders failing courses and not being prepared for middle school, and ninth graders dropping out of high school.
The idea of addressing the issue of chronic absenteeism came about when I filed an agenda item at a School Committee meeting early this year requesting that we come up with a plan to discuss this most important issue. At that time, I requested that administration conduct a public media campaign in the Fall about the importance of attending school and reached out to inter-faith groups, social agencies, and to all PTO’s. I commend administration for moving forward on this recommendation and for its collaborative effort by involving the community.
The next steps
During the coming months I would like to see the committee, of which I am a member, develop a diagnostic tool to track absenteeism and work on ways to address the social issues of lack of clothing, food, etc. and involve the inter-faith and social agencies in this process.
The schools will also have to flag students who are chronically absent or who have been chronically absent in the past and develop an instrument similar to an individual education plan (IEP) or an Individualized family engagement plan for those students at risk. Bench marks need to be established and weekly monitoring needs to take place.
This issue will not go away by itself and will need a community effort to resolve it. The Attendance Awareness Month is a start as we move toward increasing academic achievement across the school system.
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