West Oakland Middle School Principal Ron Smith knows when any of the students at his school are absent. And he remembers each one as well — missing students can expect him to ask them why they missed school the next time they’re back. “Kids get annoyed if I ask in the (morning) lineup where they were yesterday,” Smith said.
Smith was speaking on a panel that featured Oakland principals during the “Oakland Attendance Awards and Celebration” event on February 13 at Mills College to honor and celebrate “Bright Spot” schools and staff who are “moving the needle on chronic absence reduction.” The event was hosted by the Oakland Attendance Collaborative of the Oakland Education Cabinet. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and School Board Director Anne Campbell-Washington were among the 50 people who attended.
Awards for promoting positive attendance were presented to 13 Oakland schools: Think College Now, Garfield, Howard, Martin Luther King, Roosevelt, Glenview, PLACE at Prescott, Melrose, Greenleaf, Elmhurst, Montera, West Oakland and Madison.
Four principals appeared on a panel to discuss what was working on their campus to increase attendance: Smith, Enomwoyi Booker of PLACE at Prescott, Carolyn Howard of Howard and Clifford Hong of Roosevelt. Jamie Lopez, the East Bay Asian Youth Center Community Managing Director for Garfield, also appeared on the panel.
The educators on the panel highlighted the need for buy-in from the entire school and community to the idea that it is critical for students to attend school every day. Lopez spoke about how teachers are “central for this work” and the need to “energize faculty in a strategic way.” At Garfield, a portion of each monthly staff meeting is devoted to goal setting and reporting from the school’s attendance team.
Both Howard and Hong spoke about the important role the attendance clerk at their school plays. Hong noted that the attendance clerk at Roosevelt looks at the data every day and “takes it personal” when a student is chronically absent. Howard said the attendance clerk at her school knows when each student is coming and going, and helps set the expectation that any absence needs to be verified. Calls home are important, too. “If no one calls,” Howard said, “it’s like the kid is not missed.”
Booker said that if a student isn’t showing up for class in elementary school, it’s much more likely a family issue than a kid skipping class. This highlights the importance of building up trust with the community and families, Booker said, so school staff can diagnose what is happening with a particular family that results in the child being absent. “That goes hand in hand-in-hand with getting a child (to school),” Booker said.
Smith called middle school “its own beast” and said good attendance for those grades is “built on relationships of us knowing when (students) are not there.” He agreed that kids don’t want to come to school if they’re not being missed, and that some students at his school miss class because their families are relying on them for tasks like babysitting or watching the house. This is why getting to know students and what is happening in their lives is so important, Smith said. “We’re trying to build a culture where a kid says ‘I can go to school to be safe. I want to be there.’”
This article originally appeared at the Great Oakland Public Schools Leadership Center