Five Questions with Sherman Garnett
We are only two months into the new school year and it has been a wild ride so far. To launch a new post series on getting expert takes on current attendance issues, I called on my friend and pupil services guru Sherman Garnett, CEO of Sherman Garnett and Associates.
Sherman is a 40+ year education veteran who has been a teacher, coach, dean, assistant principal, principal at both the comprehensive and alternative school level and district office/county office level administrator. Mr. Garnett is the past President of the California Association of Supervisors of Child Welfare and Attendance Section(CASCWA), Association of California School Administrators Student Services and Special Education Council (ACSA) a member of the executive board of the National Truancy Prevention Association (NTPA) and is currently serving in a appointed position by the California State Superintendent of Schools as a member of the California State School Attendance Review Board (SARB).
1.With COVID-19’s disruption to learning continuity and kids going in and out of quarantine. Why is it important for districts to focus on attendance?
It is very simple. If the individual is not present for instruction, instruction will not take place. The evidence is very clear in that our legislature and governor approved AB 104 during July 2021 which essentially authorized parents the right to have their child retained, authorized students in high school to have their grades changed to Pass/Fail of which the CSU system and other colleges and universities must accept, mandated additional programs for students to catch up and revamped the decades old methodology of independent study rules and regulations. Due to school districts in general being lax and not informing parents of these options which were required by law, AB 167 was signed by the governor on September 23,2021 which corrected a few lapses and loopholes of AB 104. The legislation approved by the governor is far from being perfect. Much work needs to be accomplished to address challenges that educators were not prepared when the pandemic became a reality.
An additional area that educators were not prepared is in the area of social emotional learning. As our students have returned to school, educators and governing boards are spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with these needs first. There has been a severe spike in disciplinary issues across the state of which we are accepting and addressing these issues in the form of wellness centers, employing more counselors and school based social workers. Keeping the student at home or suspending the student is not helping the student as it will only lead to more failure and loss of learning.
Final Note: Our statewide graduation rates are hovering around the 85 percent mark. This is unacceptable. We need to and must continue to do more to keep our kids in school and for them to be successful in their studies.
2.This year is another tough year for attendance professionals working to keep kids in school, what advice do you have for them?
Be resilient. Exhaust all efforts to maintain and improve communication with students and parent. Our current system of communication with parents needs a vast overhaul. For example, parents and guardians are required to yearly complete an emergency card of contacts. Very often, 75 per cent of the phone numbers are not operable which is a tragedy. On many occasions particularly in high school, the student completes the emergency card for usage by school officials. Can you believe it? A student who is a minor which is against California education code completes and hands over to school authorities a required emergency card. Parents and schools should strengthen their partnerships to ensure student success. Schools should be validating these numbers regularly. We must work smarter and not harder to improve communication with parents.
3.You serve as a Board Trustee for the Upland USD School District. How has your CWA experience influenced your view as a board member?
Prior to my election to the Upland USD governing board, I served one term as a member of the San Bernardino County Board of Education including two consecutive years as board president. Prior to my first time as an elected official, I served for fifteen years as the Child Welfare and Attendance administrator for the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools. My focus has been this issue. Are we doing what is best for kids or are we doing what is best for adults? Having a more global and county view has enhanced my local efforts to improve student attendance at the local level. I am blessed at the local level with a great governing board of which they have maintained the sole focus of improving and continuing educational opportunities for all k-12 student. Kudos to the second-year superintendent in my district who has embraced the board’s vision and is implementing programs such as dual language immersion academies and full day kindergarten programs designed to ensure student success. However, if the student is not present, the student cannot flourish.
4. Follow up question, what should CWA professional do to raise board member’s understanding and awareness of attendance issues and solutions?
During this time of pandemic, CWA professionals should weekly inform the superintendent and board of individual school data, trends, policies, and procedures to improve attendance. Attendance across the state is declining and our daily attendance rates are declining. We must have a plan of attack to address this issue. We were given a free pass last year on attendance and ADA. This year is different. If the student is not present, we do not receive ADA which will drastically affect the budgets of school districts statewide.
5. Pre-pandemic, Black/African American students had the highest rates of chronic absenteeism. Over the past year and a half, those rates have increased significantly for this student group. What should districts do to connect with their Black/African American families?
African American families and Native American families are sharing similar demographics across the state. African American and Native American males have the highest dropout rate in the state. If we are successful in improving these rates and employ similar strategies with other ethnic groups, everybody is a winner. As an African American Educator, I recommend the following
Strong ongoing constant communication and participation with families in the form of daily and weekly communications, school site council participation and Title 1 participation. Meetings should not be held during the school day as parent participation will be limited.
Make the family the centerpiece of the community school.
Operate wellness centers
Offer strong after-school and extra-curricular programs.
PERSONALIZE THE EDUCATION.
We are all in this together. There should be no excuses.