How leaders are prioritizing school attendance in their districts

District leaders knock on doors, post billboards and focus on early grades to promote attendance
By: | September 17, 2019
High school students who arrive before the first bell receive doughnuts as part of a comprehensive attendance initiative aimed at improving school attendance at Santa Fe Public Schools in New Mexico.High school students who arrive before the first bell receive doughnuts as part of a comprehensive attendance initiative aimed at improving school attendance at Santa Fe Public Schools in New Mexico.

New Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius stressed improving school attendance by going for some long walks in the city’s neighborhoods in the days before school started, The Boston Globe reported.

She knocked doors and spoke with students and their families. Improving school attendance is one of Cassellius’ top goals as Massachusetts this year added chronic absenteeism to its measures of school quality, the Globe reported.

Elsewhere, studies have shown that sending parents text message reminders, a practice known as “nudging,” can also help with improving school attendance and preventing students from skipping classes, USA Today reports. 


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In West Virginia, leaders at Wyoming County Schools have posted billboard and yard signs, and recorded public service announcements stressing the importance of attendance. They have also created school-level rewards for improved attendance, The Register-Herald reports.

The Little Rock School District in Arkansas has formed a special committee to focus on improving school attendance, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. Districts will promote attendance at school open houses, on social media and through the district’s parent-messaging system, the paper says.

And in the Dubuque Community School District in Iowa, leaders say they are shifting from a punitive approach to absenteeism to holding celebrations recognizing high attendance, KCRG-TV reports.


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One of the keys to attendance is creating a positive school environment, says a new report from Attendance Works and the American Institutes for Research.

“When schools provide engaging, supportive, welcoming and culturally responsive environments, families are inclined to help their children get to school, and students are motivated to attend, even when there are hurdles to getting there,” the report says.

Across the country, district leaders also are taking a more personalized approach by working to determine the reasons why individual students miss school, District Administration reported earlier this year.

The Consolidated School District of New Britain, an urban district of more than 10,000 students near Hartford, chose to focus attendance efforts on early grades because kids who miss school at that age can fall significantly behind their peers academically and will be more likely to drop out later, says Joe Vaverchak, the district’s attendance supervisor.

“You’re not going to solve the problem in 10th grade because the problem has festered over the years—you’re only going to solve one case out of 30 when it gets to that level,” Vaverchak says. “But if you can get kids in first and second grade reading proficiently, that’s a leg up right away.”


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