Improving attendance across a school district takes leadership and commitment. Covina-Valley Unified School District has demonstrated that leadership by engaging school and district staff, community members, and business owners to work collaboratively to reduce chronic absenteeism.
Since the 2011-12 school year, Covina-Valley has made improved attendance a top priority, resulting in a significant increase in average daily attendance rates and a decrease in chronic absence among its more than 12,000 students. Daily attendance has increased substantially from 95.6% to 97.8%. Chronic absence rates fell from 10% in 2011-12 to 8.1% in 2013-14. With better attendance, the school district recouped nearly $1.7 million in state funds and was recognized for its efforts from the California Department of Education.
As part of Los Angeles County, Covina-Valley Unified School District serves approximately 12,300 students in 10 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, 3 high schools, and 1 continuation school within the communities of Covina, West Covina, Glendora, San Dimas, and Irwindale, California. Student’s within the district come from diverse backgrounds, with 77% Hispanic/Latino, 11% Caucasian, 8% Asian, and 4% are either African American or Filipino. About 70 percent of students participate in the federal free and reduced lunch program.
Covina-Valley’s successful strategy involves an investment in attendance personnel, a district-wide emphasis on building a positive culture of attendance at school sites, actionable data, a Saturday Academic School, community partnerships and a strengthened truancy infrastructure.
Realizing that the lack of attention to attendance was affecting student achievement and causing a significant decline in state revenues, the school district reinstated an administrative position — the Supervisor of Child Welfare and Attendance. Dr. Jessica Houpt who was charged with the development and ongoing implementation of district-wide attendance efforts. Dr. Houpt drew creatively upon available resources, from the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the community, Attendance Works and within the school district.
To build a culture of attendance, Covina-Valley trained principals to implement and expand Los Angeles County’s “I’m In” school attendance promotion and anti-truancy campaign at their school sites and trained local police in the “I’m In” model to become a helpful, non-punitive resources for schools.
Recognizing the importance of producing data at the district-level rather than relying on school staff to generate the information, Dr. Houpt and her team compile data on students who have missed 15 or more days in the prior year, missed 10 days in a single semester or who have been identified for the Student Attendance Review Board (SARB) process.
Armed with this actionable data, Dr. Houpt brings the information to principals before the start of each school year so no time is lost in efforts to get students back in school and on track. As the school year progresses, trends in these data points are charted over time allowing principals to see their progress in relation to each school in the district. This creates “friendly competition” among the principals that serves to improve attendance district-wide.
To motivate students to come to school, Covina-Valley revamped its Saturday Academic School, using enrichment and extracurricular activities to create a more engaging academic environment for students, elementary through high school. The program not only offers students an opportunity to make up for absences but also contributes to a more positive, engaged student body as evidenced by students attending voluntarily even if they do not need to make up absences.
While the local police are a strong partner in Covina-Valley’s attendance efforts, local businesses as well as residents are growing in their support. Businesses donate items such as bicycles that can be used as attendance incentives for students. As the program grows, community members are beginning to call school officials when they see students truant from school.
Covina-Valley strengthens the district’s truancy infrastructure by 1) addressing truancy in elementary schools through the Abolish Chronic Truancy (ACT) program and 2) creating an award-winning Model SARB (School Attendance Review Board), recognized by the California Department of Education, with more frequent meetings so attendance concerns can be addressed in a timely manner when prevention-oriented activities are not enough.
In keeping with California state regulations, students receive a notice of truancy if they are absent three days without an excuse or are late to class by 30 minutes without a valid excuse. If students receive three truancy notifications, they are referred to a school attendance review team. If that step does not result in improvements, they are taken to a district Student Attendance Review Board. If attendance remains a problem, students are referred to the courts.
Beyond these strategies, Covina works to offer the sort of activities that make students want to come to school because they feel connected to engaging programs and caring adults. Las Palmas Middle School offers AVID (Advanced Via Individual Determination), WEB (8th grade mentors to 6th graders), Renaissance program (rewards program), and athletics. Students are rewarded for their hard work and citizenship, which makes them feel special. Technology is an important part of their learning and as such two computer labs and several I-Pad carts are used everyday.
Lancer Academy is held on Saturday’s for student academic core instruction, enrichment or intervention. Lancer Academy has offered courses in I Movie, video game design, Google maps, 3D drawing, and music, as part of the academy, guidance teachers connect with the students, Teleparent (phone system), and PTA.
All the best efforts to support attendance can falter if adequate attention and resources do not exist at the district-level. Covina-Valley’s commitment to improving students’ attendance is a bright example of district leadership.