Showing up is half the battle

How do our kids learn if they’re not in school? Actually, I have a better question: What are we doing about it?

Absenteeism is an issue schools across the nation grapple with. But I bet you wouldn’t believe where some of our biggest challenges have been: elementary schools.

Our youngest students rely on adults to get them to school each day. And we, adults, have a lot of responsibilities. Transportation, child care, work schedules and other practical factors can mean the difference between getting your child to school on time, late or not at all.

Whether excused by a parent or not, if a student is not in class, that student is missing out. Sometimes families aren’t aware how much learning their child loses out by being absent. Our data show that missing even 10 days a year can lead to a child falling significantly behind.

Chronic absenteeism can lead to eventually dropping out.

What to do?

Fortunately, our attendance tracking systems have improved dramatically in recent years, so we have a more accurate picture from day to day.

First, we call families when their child is absent. If a pattern is emerging, our staff meet them to figure out a plan for getting to school. We understand better what’s happening and get involved with students and families in a timely manner.

After just a few missed days, a letter is mailed home about improving the student’s attendance. Still not showing up every day? The school then brings the family in for a meeting.

If the child still misses school after that, she or he is assigned a special team, and together with the family, they create a plan to improve. Sometimes as a last resort, the family meets with The City’s District Attorney, and more serious consequences for parents and guardians might begin.

After all, attending school is state law. In spite of these many steps, we still have too many students who are chronically absent. We know there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the underlying issues that keep a student out of school.

We must get to the heart of the matter when it comes to absenteeism.

John Muir Elementary shines a light

A bit of good news: Attorney General Kamala Harris will be out at John Muir Elementary in the Western Addition this week to congratulate students, staff and families for reducing their chronic truancy by more than 13 percent last year. The staff at that school has worked hard to foster a school environment and support for families to make attendance a priority.

The more we can do to increase learning time for students, the more The City as a whole benefits.

Myong Leigh is interim superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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