Schools chief Tom Torlakson recognizes KHSD as a model program offering new methods of attendance supervision
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has announced that the Kern High School District is among only nine districts in the state to be recognized for its positive, innovative approaches to keeping students in school.
“You can have the best facilities, the best teachers, and the best curriculum in the world, but none of that matters if students are not in school,” Torlakson said.
School Attendance Review Boards (SARBs) from throughout the state apply annually for the “Model SARB Recognition Program,” which honor those that use superior strategies to promote attendance improvement and dropout prevention. This year’s model SARB awards will be presented on April 21 in Garden Grove.
Bryan Campoy, educational options administrator and SARB chairperson at KHSD, said the district has converted from a punitive approach to a positive one that is highlighted by prevention and early intervention.
For the first time this year, KHSD has deployed a district-level truancy team that includes two community specialists, a counselor and a truancy officer.
“Rather than punishing students who have attendance issues, our focus now is on being proactive to improve daily attendance,” Campoy said. “This is achieved by strengthening communication efforts with parents, by identifying and removing attendance obstacles for students, and by employing early truancy intervention practices.”
These practices include offering parenting classes, making home visits wherein KHSD’s community specialists talk with parents about the importance of regular school attendance, offering resources for overcoming various challenges that may be keeping kids out of the classroom, and giving students positive incentives for good attendance, to name a few.
Daryl Thiesen, a coordinator at KCSOS and chair of the countywide Truancy Reduction and Attendance Coalition of Kern (TRACK), said chronic absenteeism rates, in addition to truancy rates, are now the key measures of attendance improvement. Chronic absentees are students who miss 10 percent of the days enrolled for any reason. Students are truant if they miss more than 30 minutes of school without a valid excuse three times in one school year.
“Recent studies have shown that chronic absenteeism as early as kindergarten can cause students to have major reading problems by the third grade, said Thiesen. “These early attendance issues lay a negative foundation that perpetuate further issues as students progress through middle school and high school.”
TRACK meets quarterly and has representation from school districts from all over the county, in addition to law enforcement and social services partners.
“The idea is for all the players to come around the table and share best practices for keeping kids in schools,” Thiesen said. “What works in one district might not be an ideal fit for the next district, but collaboration and keeping this topic at the forefront of school officials’ minds is critical.”
Chronic absenteeism costs school districts millions of dollars each year in lost income, and disproportionately increases the likelihood that certain groups of students will drop out. Children in poverty, African Americans, foster youth, and other student groups are especially vulnerable to barriers in their school attendance.
For this reason, absenteeism has been a major focus in the Torlakson administration and is now a key indicator of a student’s risk in schools’ Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs). Data on absenteeism will be collected next year in the state’s longitudinal data collection system called the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS).
“This is another checks and balances to ensure that schools are doing everything they can to raise daily attendance,” Thiesen said.
TRACK will be promoting Aug. 15 through Sept. 15 as “School Attendance Awareness Month” again this year, as it has for the past two years.