This case study was originally published in Attending School Every Day: Taking Action, Making Progress in Oakland Schools in September 2014.
For an under-resourced school struggling with low attendance rates, the challenges can be great. But when you’re a tight-knit campus that is “adamant” about attendance, you go to equally great lengths to turn things around.
“Adamant” is how Principal Enomwoyi Booker describes the commitment to improving attendance at PLACE @ Prescott Elementary in West Oakland. Over the past four years, this focus has created a remarkable shift; since 2009-10, chronic absence at PLACE has dropped from 31% to 16%. Among the school’s predominantly African American students, progress has been even more dramatic, with rates down from 32% to 13%.
Booker believes improved attendance has had an impact on academic achievement. In 2012, PLACE’s California Standards Test (CST) scores in science showed some of the greatest improvement in Oakland, with an 11 percentage-point increase in the number of students scoring proficient or advanced.
How did PLACE @ Prescott make these strides?
Booker and the school’s teachers and support staff have gone the extra mile to connect with families of frequently absent students. Home visits show families how important the school considers attendance and often lead to solutions that make a big difference. In one case, the school wound up buying an alarm clock for a tardy student’s older sibling so he could help his brother get to school on time. “We have these conversations on the porch, or through the car window at the curbside if a child’s dropped off late to school,” explains Booker. “We break it down, figure out how we can help, then do whatever it takes.”
Family to family
Booker says other parents have also been essential partners in the attendance cause. “We have great parent leaders and liaisons who’ve been able to explain to other parents how important regular attendance is,” says Booker. On a campus like PLACE with several long-time staff and so many families that know each other, “teachers and parent leaders have gained trust in the community, and families will connect with each other to make sure kids are at school on time. There’s always somebody who can help somebody else out.”
Just as all parts of the school community share the job of doing outreach around attendance, they also share the data. Truancy and chronic absence lists are used school wide, for coordination of services, individualized student plans, and after-school participants. In this way, PLACE @ Prescott has integrated attendance work across the school.
On-site health services
As in many Oakland schools, health factors – especially asthma – are a major barrier to attendance at PLACE. To address this, Booker says, “We try to offer as many support services here as we can.” The campus hosts a monthly Breath Mobile for students with asthma, plus a dental clinic and vision screening. If students are missing chunks of the day due to doctor appointments, teachers encourage parents to schedule appointments at the very beginning or end of the day whenever possible.
The long road to school
Twenty percent of PLACE @ Prescott students live outside the immediate neighborhood, making transportation an issue both daily and during registration time. To spare families a trip to the District offices, PLACE arranges for on-site enrollment during the summer so that kids are squared away before the first day of school.
Excitement as incentive
While PLACE honors students with perfect attendance in a hallway photo display and with certificates, Booker says the real key is the school’s culture and curriculum. “It’s a calm, warm, inviting place,” she says. “Kids are excited about learning, and we offer as many opportunities as we can for kids to have different experiences. That’s also a draw. We’re a STEM school, with hands-on science, and kids are excited about that. They don’t want to miss school because they might miss out on science or our arts program. They want to be here.”