SBHS implements system to prevent chronic absenteeism

San Benito High School District, San Benito Live

San Benito High School District has an unwavering commitment to ensure all students graduate college and/or are career ready. Last year, the Board of Trustees identified 10 “Indicators of Success” to measure how well the district is functioning annually. These indicators include attendance and graduation rates, test scores, and AP course enrollment and passage rates.

Now, the district is implementing a new early warning and intervention system that tracks student attendance and automatically notifies families when their child is trending toward being chronically absent.

“Positive student attendance is one of our highest priorities – it is the foundational backbone of this organization,” said District Superintendent Dr. Shawn Tennenbaum. “When students are not attending school on a regular basis, they are more likely to not succeed in other key areas.”

The district is proud that its daily attendance rate has steadily increased from just over 95 percent in 2016-17 to almost 97 percent in 2018-19. However, administrators acknowledge that there is still room for growth.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, almost 20 percent of students in high school are chronically absent nationally. Research shows that secondary students who are chronically absent are more likely to not complete high school.

In California, chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the typical 180-instructional-day school year, or the equivalent of at least one month of school, due to excused and unexcused absences, as well as out-of-school suspensions.

Although San Benito High School District’s chronic absenteeism rate was far below the national average during the 2017-18 school year, its stated goal is to consistently be below the state average of 11 percent.

Tennenbaum and Principal Adrian Ramirez said that with the help of Attention2Attendance (A2A), the district will be better equipped to share the message out to both students and parents about how important positive attendance is to their success in school.

With A2A, communications go out in each family’s home language. This removes the burden of crafting and mailing letters from staff, who are then free to reach out to families and offer more personalized support.

“One thing that came into consideration when deciding to implement A2A was the chance to free up time for the district’s support staff to actually meet with students and their families,” Ramirez said. “That way, we can help them identify barriers to regular attendance and find ways around those.”

Based on our experience, no single intervention could possibly help all students, Ramirez explained. However, the new program provides administrators and support staff the ability to dig more efficiently into the data to see what student subgroups are missing the most school. The next step is to create targeted interventions that make a difference for students.