Sanger, Lindsay Unified honored for Model School Attendance

(Rigo Moran)

Two local school districts recognized by state superintendent for improving student attendance, reducing chronic absenteeism 

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – Two local school districts have been recognized as model schools for their innovative strategies to improve attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism at their school sites.

From Tulare and Fresno County, Lindsay Unified School Board and Sanger Unified School Board were among the 23 recipients to be named Model School Attendance Review School Recipients by State Supervisor Tony Thurmond. The award is given to school districts that employ a number of strategies to improve attendance, reduce chronic absenteeism and inform parents on ways to ensure their children are in the best position to take advantage of learning opportunities.

Laura Cortes, director of student and community services with Lindsay Unified, and Johnny Gonzalez, an administrator with Sanger Unified, both said the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to linger with negative impacts on attendance.

“One of the challenges we faced coming out of the pandemic: If a learner had a tiny cough, they would stay home,” Cortes said. “We have nurses at our school, so please send your child to school. If they are truly ill, we will make sure you can take them home or pick them.”

In-school medical care is part of the way both districts have improved attendance. In recent years, campuses have brought on more medical staff, including mental health care and nurses to provide a holistic approach to education that goes beyond education. Additionally, communication and outreach have played a key role, Cortes noted.

“It has taken a lot of education on our half, as school officials, and communicating with parents,” Cortes said.

Outreach to parents has been a vital component of improving attendance in both districts. Gonzalez said he takes opportunities to reach out to parents and help educate them on the importance of involving parents with their children’s education. To accomplish this, he said he hosts weekend workshops that are one-hour programs to help parents.

“They are one-hour workshops where I go over the importance of attendance, giving them strategies in regards to what it is that I am seeing,” Gonzalez said. “We will set up a quick little workshop and teach the parents the importance of routines: setting up clothes the night before, setting up the backpack and not changing those routines for 180 days.” He added that it takes about 66 days to develop a good habit.

The school districts are also taking a proactive approach to customizing education opportunities around a student’s particular lifestyle using outreach and advocates. Community School Grants have been vital to achieving goals like this, Gonzalez said.

“A couple of school sites we have (in SUSD) were able to access those Community School funds and we were able to hire a student advocate or a parent liaison for doing phone calls when students are absent, doing home visits when kids are regularly missing,” Gonzalez said. “They are huge advocates for the kids at the school-side level, so it never had to get to me at the district level.”

Another one of the important changes that have improved attendance is a reduction in the use of punitive measures such as detention and suspension. By seeking alternative interventions, Cortes said attendance has improved.

“The interventions can range from phone calls, attendance plans, connecting the family of those  learners with our resource center for any additional support that the family may need, to – sometimes – home visits,” Cortes said. “We have moved away from the punitive to a restorative model. We try to be restorative, make sure they are connected to someone at school. It starts with building that relationship, and communication with the staff.”

Cortez added that a number of programs throughout the district also offer additional resources to make sure that students who are struggling in class can get caught up, whether it is additional help with reading or math.

“We look at the whole child to understand why their attendance is dropping,” Cortes said.

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