Nearly 1,400 students have improved their attendance rates by 10 percentage points or more in Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS). At the beginning of this school year, SKPS launched “Every Day 24J” to raise awareness with students, schools, community organizations and local officials regarding chronic absenteeism and the impact it has on student achievement.
For the past several months, schools and community organizations have been collaborating to identify barriers to attendance for students across the district. The work has centered around connecting students and families to community resources, providing incentives for positive attendance trends and most importantly, building relationships with each and every student.
At North Salem High School (NSHS), nearly 50 percent of their student population was considered chronically absent in 2017-18.
“The sense of urgency regarding attendance has never been stronger,” said NSHS Assistant Principal Carlos Ruiz. “Our strengths are making relationships, which are foundational in education. It doesn’t matter what your title is; we all have the capacity and power to connect with kids.”
Now, 200 more students are attending school regularly at NSHS. School leadership attributes this success to the work their staff is doing to connect with students one-on-one, identifying challenges and working with students to help them gain the support they need.
“If it wasn’t for my teachers and friends, I wouldn’t have graduated,” said 2018 NSHS graduate David New. “It sounds really cliché, but it’s the persistence of ‘are you on track’ or ‘are you actually doing it’ that makes the difference.”
Through a grant with Kaiser Permanente, the Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality is also working to develop attendance supports for families in the North Salem High feeder system.
Educators at all levels are able to monitor attendance trends in real-time so they can identify dips in student attendance.
Three SKPS elementary schools are using innovative techniques to reach their students. At Four Corners Elementary, students are getting an extra special spotlight each month as they participate in their “parade of champions.” Each month, school staff line the halls to celebrate the excellent attendance and behavior of students from all grade levels.
“The Parade of Champions is a way to spotlight the students who have already mastered important skills they need to be successful in school and in life,” said Four Corners Counselor Kim Siegrist. “They have excellent attendance, they follow the Cubs Promise, they work hard, they persevere and they do the right thing each and every day. Our champions are succeeding despite difficult challenges they face in life, and their hard work needs to be celebrated.”
So far this year, 92 percent of students from Four Corners Elementary have been recognized for their excellent attendance and behavior.
At Auburn Elementary, Principal Katie Shumway identified a dip in their attendance trends when it begins to rain. Auburn Elementary is nestled in a community where the majority of their 700 students walk to and from school each day. Through the work of the Every Day 24J committee, One Thousand Soles was able to purchase 50 pairs of rain boots at a reduced cost from Wilco to support students at Auburn. These boots are raffled off each Monday and Friday, the school’s lowest attendance day as an extra incentive for students and families.
At Hallman Elementary, school staff work closely with data to analyze and provide tiers of support to students and their families in the areas of academics, attendance and behavior. Through this work, Hallman is able to build strong relationships with each and every student to help students feel connected and ready to learn.
“The most important thing at Hallman is that all staff maintains relentless belief in all students,” said Principal Jessica Brenden. “We help them believe in themselves and understand that they can achieve their dreams.”
According to the Oregon Department of Education standards, chronic absenteeism is when a student misses 10 percent or more of school days—or the equivalent of two days of school a month.
In 2017-18, nearly one in three SKPS students were considered to be chronically absent, missing 10 percent of their instructional time each year. If students continue the trends of chronic absenteeism from kindergarten through the end of middle school, he or she will have lost an entire year of instruction by ninth grade.
“In Oregon, we already have one of the shortest school years in the country, and each day of instruction is critically important to a child’s development,” said SKPS Superintendent Christy Perry. “Regular attendance is a key indicator of student success and habits start with our very youngest learners in pre-kindergarten. It is so important for our students to be here each and every day.”