District hopes software will boost attendance

Del Norte Triplicate
Published Sept. 15, 2018
Jessica Cejnar, Del Norte Triplicate
 

After partnering with county probation to hire a truancy officer, the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees on Thursday approved an increase of $50,000 to the 2018–19 budget for a software program that they hope will improve attendance.

Attention to Attendance tracks student attendance, providing the district with “usable data in real time” and reaching out to parents if their child has missed school, said Jeff Napier, the district’s assistant superintendent of business. According to Napier, school districts that have used this system have seen an increase in attendance, which also means an increase in revenue.

“They usually average about a 1 to a 1½ percent increase in ADA,” Napier said, referring to average daily attendance, or the per-pupil funding model the state uses for K–12 education. “If we get a 0.3 percent increase this year, it will pay for the $50,000.”

According to Napier, the software program could also help the district’s chronic absentee rate decrease. Last year the district’s chronic absentee rate was 24.1 percent, or 1 out of every 4 students. As a result, the district has embarked on an attendance initiative, which includes partnering with county probation to hire a truancy officer in an effort to bring that rate down.

The district receives $248,000 in ADA funding for every 1 percent increase in attendance, Napier said.

According to Napier, use of Attention to Attendance is through a three-year contract with School Innovation and Achievement, which has provided other software to the school district. The $50,000 would be a recurring expense, he said, but the district could get out of the contract at the end of each year if the board wasn’t pleased with the results.

The software program is used by Eureka City Schools as well as school districts in Kern County, Fresno and the Bay Area, said DNCUSD Superintendent Jeff Harris.

“The program is not only the hammer program that says your kid has missed school, get them there,” Harris said of Attention to Attendance, “it’s also the program that says, hey you’re doing great, you’ve got a 97 percent attendance rate. Later they get another postcard that says you’re still on track, keep going. And they’re customized with my signature on them.”

The system will also print notices to parents in English, Spanish, Hmong, Yurok and Tolowa, Harris said. District staff will be able to provide a report to the school board on the software program’s progress as well as any changes in district attendance about three times a year, he said.

In July, Del Norte County Probation Officer Lonnie Reyman went before the school board with a proposal to hire a truancy officer who would connect students and families with services to ensure their children stay in school. The truancy officer would also coordinate with the district’s School Attendance Review Board.

Reyman told the school board his office could fund a truancy officer for about two years with an estimated cost of about $75,000 to $80,000. Reyman asked for the district’s commitment to fund the position after those two years.

On Thursday, Harris said the district’s current attendance rate is 93.1 percent. Without an attendance initiative, the district’s attendance rate should be 94 to 95 percent, he said.

“With an attendance initiative, we should be between 95 and 96 and a half,” he said. “And our target should always be 97 to 98.”

Other budget revisions include hiring a new kindergarten teacher at Joe Hamilton Elementary School. According to Napier, the cost to the district will be $86,000 and would come from unrestricted funds.

Meanwhile, during his 13th-day enrollment report, Napier said Del Norte High School has received “quite a few” new students from the Redding area, which has been affected by wildfires this summer.

Del Norte High School assistant principal Alison Eckart said the high school has received 60 students from Redding.

Napier said the district’s overall enrollment has increased by about 32 students as a result of an increase in enrollment at the high school.

“If we do have a bunch of kids that are here only for a part of the year and then move back we may see a drastic decline (in enrollment) at the high school,” he said.