How leaders in 3 districts keep online attendance high

'We're finding better ways for students to be engaged,' superintendent says
By: | October 16, 2020
District leaders say they're maintaining attendance through new online tools and a renewed commitment to family outreach. (GettyImages/Mint Images)District leaders say they're maintaining attendance through new online tools and a renewed commitment to family outreach. (GettyImages/Mint Images)

Attendance in online learning at Everett Public Schools near Seattle has rebounded since the district was one of the first in the nation to go fully remote in March.

Educators have redoubled their outreach to parents while classroom teachers have brought a new level of commitment to keeping students engaged, Superintendent Ian Saltzman says.

Teachers check attendance daily and regularly contact families.

“Attendance is so much better than it was in May and June,” Saltzman says. “It’s extremely difficult for kids and it’s extremely difficult for kids, and the energy I’ve seen from our teacher has been amazing.”

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District leaders hold parent universities and monthly virtual meetings with parents to gather feedback.

It was through these meetings that the district developed parents suggested of a six-hour school day with built in breaks, Saltzman says.

New ways to connect

The attendance rate this year has hit 97.1% during the first six weeks of mostly-online instruction at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD in Texas.

One reason for the boost in attendance from the spring is that district leaders hosted enrichment camps during the summer, Superintendent Jorge L. Arredondo says.

Teachers were able to connect with parents to distribute computer devices, textbooks and other curriculum materials, Arredondo says.

Teachers also hold daily advisory periods where they can identify any challenges students are facing in connecting or following the online curriculum.

“We’re finding better ways for students to be engaged,” Arredondo says. “Teachers can provide more interventions and support through different platforms and if students miss class, they can watch videotaped lessons. If they didn’t understand something, they can watch it again.”

Attendance up, enrollment down

Superintendent David Law has been using his social media channels to showcase activities in his classrooms, which are operating at 50% in-person capacity this school year.

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And while he believes his efforts have helped attendance in the Anoka-Hennepin School District near Minneapolis resurge to about 99%, overall enrollment has dropped about 3%.

One reason is that some families have transferred students to private schools that have returned to full in-person instruction. Other families have chosen to home school their children during the pandemic, he says.

This has cost the district about $10 million in funding, Law says.

Elementary school students are assigned to an online teacher who does daily check-ins and attendance. In upper grades, the first 25 minutes are synchronous, which allow teachers to do headcounts, Law says.