Principal Brian Pluim doesn’t just talk about attendance at Westside Elementary School in Baltimore’s Druid Hill neighborhood. He takes personal responsibility and is setting an example for teachers, families and students.
During the first few weeks of school, Principal Pluim and his staff made sure that transportation wasn’t a barrier to any child getting to school. Pluim himself walked students to school in the mornings, making the extra effort because he wanted to ensure that the young students were starting the new year by forming good attendance habits. “The teachers know that I think it’s important,” says Pluim. “If they see me picking up kids, they know that I’m serious about attendance.”
It is this dedication — along with meeting with parents of incoming students prior to the school year, daily follow-up with parents of absent students, consistent attendance messaging and teacher training – that has boosted pre-k and kindergarten daily attendance from an average of 88.73 percent in 2011 to 95.4 percent in 2012. And the numbers are continuing to rise.
This remarkable change in attendance earned Westside Elementary winner status for Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s first Mayor’s Attendance Competition. The winning pre-k and kindergarten students won a fun day at Port Discovery, Baltimore’s children’s museum, along with other prizes, while the school received a $1,000 grant from Comcast.
Pluim, now in his fourth year as principal at Westside Elementary, has suffused the school with a culture of attendance. Before school even started, pre-k and kindergarten teachers met with parents of incoming students to let them know what to expect and emphasize the importance of attendance.
“Parents do not understand initially that pre-k and kindergarten are serious classroom instructional grades,” says Pluim. “Our teachers stress that this is a responsibility parents have to own. They also shared data about the correlation between good attendance and academic success.”
Pluim emphasizes accountability with his teachers and the effect that an engaged and committed teacher can have on students. “I tell them to take responsibility. If a student’s not there, you should notice. If you see a problem, let the office know so that we can follow up.” He also talks to parents as they arrive in the morning about being on time and establishing good habits for their children.
He believes that strong attendance follows when teachers and the administration create a culture in the school where children enjoy being in class, teachers respect them and they have good peer relationships. “That internal motivation has to be there too,” says Pluim. “When we create a caring and responsive community, they are going to want to come to school.”
Beyond the Mayor’s Attendance Competition, Westside Elementary uses the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports to encourage attendance, recognizing classes with perfect attendance during morning announcements and treating students with two days or fewer absences to monthly events like a moon bounce and popcorn party.
The school will be using its $1,000 grant to purchase uniforms to keep at the school. “Uniforms can keep kids home,” says Pluim. “Some kids didn’t make the first days of school because the parents didn’t have uniforms. We don’t want the lack of uniforms to be a barrier to school attendance.”
Pluim himself wears a navy blue and white school uniform every day to enforce the school culture of attendance, respect and learning. “We are consistently communicating this message – that every child counts and every day counts.”