Attendance Matters

  • Chronic Absenteeism-A Community Challenge

    A recently released report from the Oregon Department of Education indicates that the problem of chronic student absenteeism (students missing more than 10% of instructional days they are enrolled) continues to be a significant challenge in Oregon and our District is no exception. Despite increased efforts to reach out to families and students to provide support and incentives to help get students to attend, these efforts are having a marginal impact with the chronic absenteeism rate at Grants Pass High School increasing to an unacceptable level. The reality is that although our District is able to offer educational and extracurricular opportunities not available in many school districts, those opportunities are not being accessed by students who do not attend school on a regular basis.

    Although parents may be primarily responsible for having their students attend school, school districts also have a responsibility to do everything possible to support such attendance, even when such support goes beyond the traditional transportation, food service and on-site school support services school districts generally provide. The fact is that the attendance barriers our students and families are faced with are more extensive and complicated than in the past, often linked to poverty including homelessness, lack of health care, drug and alcohol use issues and more.

    Notwithstanding these barriers, this is not a challenge school districts can shrink from, rather it is a call to an even greater commitment to address this continuing problem. At the same time, it is not a challenge for school districts alone, rather it is a community challenge grounded in the truism that there is no more important investment in our community than to provide our youth with a good education and that cannot be accomplished unless they are in school.

    Our District is currently developing a parent engagement and community partnership model in order to better support and educate families on the importance of children attending school. This effort will identify available community resources (shelter, health care, counseling, mental health services and more) that can be accessed to address the attendance barriers identified by our students and families. The hope is that by expanding our family engagement/community partnership efforts, we can better leverage the finite resources available to reach as many students in as many ways as possible.

    It will also involve a community messaging outreach campaign to parents, businesses and non-profit organizations asking for their help in creating a culture that makes school attendance a community priority. This would include signage to be posted in the windows of homes and businesses with the message that school attendance truly matters, encouraging those families that might not be sending their children to school by asking “Is your student in school today?”.

    Our District has recently revised and enhanced its Attendance Matters initiative which emphasizes a coordinated parent education and attendance support system with truancy sanctions being used when all other options have failed. We are hopeful that these efforts coupled with a well-coordinated community Attendance Matters partnering campaign will result in real progress in addressing our community’s chronic absenteeism challenge.

    John Higgins

    October 30, 2015