East Central’s stunning success in managing attendance, truancy issuesTom Chorneau, Managing Editor
SI&A Cabinet Report
A little more than two years ago, East Central Independent School District suffered an unusual dip in attendance of nearly a full percentage point. Although worrisome, what got the district administration’s attention was the related drop in state funding of close to $600,000.
Jim Selby, East Central’s Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations, said there had been nagging concerns for some time about the overall management and policies surrounding attendance and truancy – but once the problem began cutting deep into the general fund, there was a new sense of urgency to address the issue.
Help arrived in the form of a new attendance management system from School Innovations, a division of SI&A based in Sacramento, called Attention2Attendance®.
The program, which is currently being used to monitor more than 600,000 students at more than 900 campuses both in California and Texas, uses a unique web-based infrastructure to provide district and school site managers near-real time attendance data and trend analysis. Attention2Attendance also facilitates conference management and automates the production and mailing of attendance notifications in the student’s home language.
After just the first year of implementation at East Central, average daily attendance climbed from 94.4 percent in 2009-10 to 95.29 in 2010-11 – that resulted in nearly a $400,000 increase in state revenue.
Perhaps more importantly, that also resulted in an addition of 72,000 hours more in learning time.
Selby said that the A2A service, in conjunction with other internal changes, assisted both the district and schools to focus on what was wrong and what needed to change.
“What we were not doing well was having a clear and coherent policy district wide – which was what (School Innovations) helped us do,” he said. “Also, even though we had policies and procedures in writing, we were not administrating them in an efficient and consistent manner.”
East Central, located just outside urban San Antonio, has a student population of close to 9,100 attending classes from pre-kindergarten to high school. About 60 percent of the surrounding community is Hispanic and about 65 percent of the students are qualified to be enrolled in federal meal programs.
Getting students to school and keeping them engaged in the classroom is a paramount objective. But, like many districts throughout the country, devoting precious staff time to managing truancy programs had become increasingly difficult.
Selby noted that the process of generating the first truancy notice to parents, signing individual letters, putting them into an envelope and mailing them – had for many of the district’s schools become a major challenge.
“In some cases, by the time we got many of those first letters out – some of those same kids were at a point where they should be getting the second or even the third letter,” Selby said.
At the outset, he explained, they brought together everyone involved in the program – from school principals and district personnel to administrative clerks that often carry out most of the functions.
“We got everyone on the same page and in agreement about what needed to be done,” he explained.
They were also exposed to the A2A program and then they were asked if this was a service that would be helpful.
“We thought this was so important that we went through the A2A program and everyone was asked, ‘Do you think this is something that will help you?’ and everyone said they felt this would be a big benefit.
“The reason why is that our staff at each campus is just maxed out in terms of what their assignments are,” he said.
Key to the approach from School Innovations on attendance management and dropout prevention is an emphasis on early warning. The A2A program combines an easy-to-use web-based application with ongoing assistance from School Innovation’s team of experts in attendance management and data analysis.
The program can boast increasing ADA among all clients during the 2010-11 school year of .73 percent.
A2A clients also achieved last year an average decrease in full-day absences of 55 percent and a reduction in period absences of 38 percent.
Overall, A2A clients added back into the classroom a total of 2.5 million hours of learning time.
The A2A program, unique for its comprehensiveness and focus on detail, is built around adding efficiency to a district’s existing attendance system. Automation of parent notifications of attendance issues and management of parent conferences streamline the approach, giving district personnel more time for intervention.
The program, which is being used in some of California’s largest districts – including San Francisco Unified and Santa Ana Unified, has a seven-year track record of success.
Selby said the A2A program has proved to be an easy adjustment not just for the district administration but also for students and teachers as well as parents.
“We don’t sell it as a money maker for the district – we don’t hide that fact either,” he said. “We make parents aware that every day your child is not in school, the district loses funds – but more importantly for your child and for you, if they are not in school – they cannot learn.”
“That’s the way it’s presented not only to parents – but our staff and administrators and our board,” he said. “It’s a win-win when we keep the kids in school.”