• September 16, 2019

ECISD getting proactive on attendance - Odessa American: Community

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ECISD getting proactive on attendance

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Posted: Sunday, September 8, 2019 4:18 pm

With attendance tied to state funding and student success, Ector County ISD is making an extra effort this year to get in front of truancy and help families in the process.

“Attendance problems a lot of times are an indication something else is going on. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. If we can find out what the issue is and try to help it, the student will do better in school and the family will do better,” Lead Social Worker Scott Randolph said.

Chronic absenteeism is considered when children miss 10 percent or more of the school year.

“Last year, I think we had close to 5,000 kids that missed 17 or more days. That’s huge. If we can reduce that down it just helps them and helps everybody,” Randolph said.

Average state attendance was 95.7 percent in 2016-17, the last data Randolph has. Average daily attendance for ECISD in 2018-2019 was 93.5.

“Two percentage points when you’re talking about attendance is huge. That equates to millions of lost dollars and lost education. If we could get up to the state average,” Randolph said, “I really think it would improve our scores. It would improve all kinds of stuff with education. …”

He estimated that ECISD could gain at least $1.4 million if it hits the state average.

“The money is big,” Randolph said, “but if every student improved a day or two it would make their lives easier it would make their lives better.”

He noted that the district is not trying to push families to send sick children to school, but everybody is needed.

Randolph said parents “way underestimate” the number of absences their children have each year, the Harvard University study found.

“If parents will just put a calendar on their refrigerator and if they just put a mark each time their child misses, they can actually improve their attendance very simply. That’s one of the things that we’re trying to do,” he said.

He said the district also is trying to get teachers to reach out to students’ parents more.

“The research also showed the best person to talk to the child’s parents about attendance is the teacher. When the principal calls, they assume their child is in trouble. But when a teacher calls, the parent will listen and they’re open to listening and … they think the teacher is doing it in the child’s best interest, whereas if the principal calls, they think Johnny’s in trouble. Those are a couple of things that do make a big difference,” Randolph said.

Another social worker has been added this year, so Randolph said there will be four and that will give the professionals a chance to provide more services to families that are struggling.

“We’re trying to increase the direct services to them and the media exposure, so families know the importance of being in school. We assume they do, but we need to put out more. We had talked about putting up billboards, not necessarily focusing on the truancy side of it, but focusing on the positive side,” he said.

There is an extensive truancy system.

“We always try to enforce the truancy, but we really want it to not get to truancy so if we can get these little things in place in place in front of it, it will just be better for all involved. What we say is seven or fewer days is best. If everybody in ECISD had their student missing seven or fewer days in the year, we would be at the state average. On the actual truancy side, there’s a few things — three unexcused absences within a four-week period. By law, we have to send them a warning letter that tells them … hey you’re violating the attendance laws. But if they get to 10 unexcused within a six- month period, that’s when by law we have to file truancy charges against the parent,” Randolph said.

 The goal is not to get to 10 unexcused absences.

“If they get to 10 unexcused absences within a six-month period, the parent gets penalized. A couple of years ago, they changed the law. The student used to get in trouble, as well as the parents. They changed the laws because the school district (was) putting too many charges on young kids, so what we would do is children from age 14 to 18 might get 10 to 15 truancy tickets, and then once they became of age, they’ve got thousands of dollars of tickets sitting here. Then it just causes problems, so they said no more; don’t criminalize kids. We don’t need to be sending them through the adult system for truancy. So the state law changed. It said no more filing charges on kids,” Randolph said.

He said the charge is called parent contributing to non-attendance, a Class C misdemeanor.

“We try to do a lot of things ahead of time. We have the automated calling system that calls every single day that your child misses. And one of the good things about moving to the online registration is we’re hoping that the contact information is a lot more accurate. … I think that’s going to help tremendously,” Randolph said. “Anytime child is absent, parents are notified. Parents, if they’re using the portal, they can actually see real-time attendance.”

Before 10 absences are reached, there is a truancy prevention measures contract meeting where the school meets with the parents and tells them about their child’s absences and asks what’s going on.

“A lot of times, it’s we got evicted and we live on the other side of town. Or Johnny’s being defiant and the parents need some parenting help. … Usually, there is a bigger issue that needs to be helped so the purpose of our truancy prevention measures meetings is to figure out what that is and try to provide resources that remove those barriers,” Randolph said.

The meetings are usually attended by the principal, assistant principal or counselor and the parents. In the upper grade levels, the student is included.

On the elementary level, he said, it’s not usually the students’ fault.

“Usually, it’s parents working tons, or their car breaks down. As you get older, it becomes more of a student problem. The younger you get, it’s more of the parents’ issues,” Randolph said.

Randolph’s office at the Community Outreach Center offers clothes, food, shoes, uniforms and school supplies.

“The school district tries to meet all the social needs. … And a lot of times there’s problems at school maybe there’s bullying; the child feels isolated; they’re not adjusting to school well. If the parents will reach out … to the principal they can help in those situations. But a lot of times, they’re afraid that maybe things will get worse, or the bullying situation will get worse if they told a principal,” Randolph said. “We really hate that those things go on, so if they reach out and talk to a trusted adult and school, they can help.”

Attendance used to be kids playing hooky it’s really a lot more than that it’s bigger under the surface. If they’re chronically absent have to figure out the issue if can figure it out can help this community would be so much better off. We’ve got a lot of social ills in the community. That’s just the way it is and we’ve got to try and fix those.

This is one of the first times the district is focusing on the front end of attendance.

Alicia Syverson, division student school support, said many times the district has been reactive to attendance that has already become a problem. Now it’s more about being proactive, she said.

“There’s a three-tiered approach that our teams have put in place and the first piece of that is making sure we are doing a good job of communicating with our parents and our families about the importance of attendance,” Syverson said.

The initiative is dubbed attendance matters. The district has distributed a one-pager for parents that includes a calendar that they can put on the refrigerator to keep track of absences.

“Sometimes parents don’t realize that two absences here, an absence there, those absences add up. So making sure that we’re communicating the importance with parents, but then also helping them track their child’s absences so they can see (it) collectively,” Syverson said.

Research shows that early attendance equals later success.

“As educators, we understand how learning is sequential. First grade builds off kinder; second grade builds off first. But according to this information, the fact that education was sequential is new information to some parents so making sure that kids are in attendance early on equals later success …,” Syverson said.

Attendance also can impact whether a student is promoted to the next grade.

Syverson said the district is having quarterly meetings with attendance clerks to make sure the information stays in the forefront of their minds.

“Scott Randolph is currently scheduling meetings with our elementary assistant principals, and possibly principals, as well,” Syverson said.

She added that they want to make sure there are no gaps in the prevention measures from campus to campus.

“I think anytime there’s mobility where students move around a lot, mobility does impact some of that. If they come from out of district, it is more of a challenge internally. There is a process being implemented where we log this information into Eduphoria, which is just our data management system, so if they move within the district students with issues in attendance are going to be logged in … But I think anytime a student moves around, it takes us a little while to get to know the student to get to know their habits and those kinds of things,” she said.

“Our hope is this consistent plan will alleviate some of that,” Syverson added.

 

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