For the 2nd year, educators join together to share solutions for chronic absenteeism
On Thursday, October 4, we were thrilled to host our second annual “Attendance Matters” conference in partnership with the School Based Attendance Coalition. More than 200 individuals attended the event, which was held in the Mid-America Center.
The conference highlighted the efforts of two “Bright Spot” communities working to improve attendance rates: Cleveland, Ohio and Baltimore, Maryland. Lorri Hobson, director of attendance for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and Sue Fothergill, associate director of policy at Attendance Works, delivered the keynote address.
A number of educators and community members also presented at the conference during six breakout sessions. For the first year, one breakout session highlighted the voices of students impacted by chronic absenteeism.
Dr. Cheryl Logan, Omaha Public School’s new superintendent, provided the call to action at the close of the conference.
- Improving Attendance through School and Community Partnerships with Sue Fothergill, Attendance Works
- The Voices Behind the Actions: A Student Panel on Absenteeism with Jaden Morelli, Bellevue Public Schools; Xavier Thompson, Omaha Public Schools; Laurel Socha, Council Bluffs Community Schools; and Jamesha Lyon, Omaha Public Schools
- A Trauma-Informed Approach to Attendance with Ashley Denton, Green Hills AEA and Amy Rommel, Green Hills AEA
- Reframing School Practices to Address Chronic Absenteeism with Lorri Hobson, Cleveland Metropolitan School District
- Building a Bridge with Data with Lisa Utterback, Omaha Public Schools; Scott Schmidtbonne, Omaha Public Schools; and Kami Piechota, Omaha Public Schools
- Developing Trauma-Informed Practices with Jessica Kroeker, Project Harmony
Fothergill began her address on a personal note – her son had been chronically absent in high school. Fothergill wasn’t notified of his absences until they had accumulated to an alarming number. She conveyed her frustration with the school, believing their actions discouraged Ethan instead of motivating him to attend class.
“The thing we need to do is wrap our arms around them . . . (find out) which adults they have a relationship with and re-engage them instead of pushing them farther away,” she said.
Fothergill proposed schools invest in prevention and early intervention strategies. Prevention, she said, includes building engaging school climates, fostering relationships with students and families, identifying common barriers to attendance and sharing the impact that absences can have on achievement.
Why is sharing so important? Parents often don’t realize their children are chronically absent, she said. In fact, 60% of parents said their child was absent an average of 2+ days a month, but not 10+ a year.
For early prevention, Fothergill advised that students, families, schools and community partners collect actionable data, build their capacity by working together, formulate strategic partnerships, share accountability and provide positive engagement for students and their families.
Hobson started out her keynote by sharing a lesson she had to learn the hard way. Her original approach to absenteeism – sending out a letter that listed the legal repercussions parents would face if their students didn’t come to school – didn’t produce the results she wanted.
“My letter would have scared me,” she said. “I was not compassionate. I was ignoring what was in front of me, what parents were telling about their family and homes.”
When a school shooting occurred during a meeting she was holding with parents about the legal consequences of truancy, Hobson re-evaluated her approach.
“It was a wake-up call,” she said. “That day, I said no more truancy hearings. . . Truants do not belong in the juvenile court system. Parents don’t belong (in the system).”
Hobson then started school support teams for students who were missing class. She began to collaborate systematically with others to reduce chronic absenteeism. And this collaborative, compassionate approach started to produce results. Her district reduced its chronic absenteeism population from more than 44 percent to 28 percent within the first year of its citywide attendance campaign, “Get 2 School, You Can Make It!”
“(Parents) can detect when someone is sincere and cares,” she said.