S.F. Examiner File PhotoThe San Francisco Unified School District welcomes families to participate in children's education.

Jefferson Elementary School District initiative targets student truancy

The Jefferson Elementary School District is launching an initiative aimed at reducing absenteeism among its students.

According to Superintendent Bernie Vidales, the first phase of the Showing Up campaign will focus on enhanced reporting. Principals will receive detailed reports from the district’s attendance-tracking database that will make it easier to recognize trends in absenteeism, he said.

Vidales said district schools have historically been good at identifying students with poor attendance and those with perfect attendance, but better tracking is needed for youths falling in the middle. He said it’s important to recognize developing truancy habits as early as possible, because that behavior can help predict whether students are at risk of not completing their educations.

“Kids don’t drop out in high school,” Vidales said. “They drop out in third grade.”

Vidales said reports revealing whether specific students — or students in general — are more likely to be absent on certain days of the week, or on test days or other special occasions, could help identify and address the causes of their absenteeism.

Improved reporting, Vidales said, would also help distinguish between isolated incidents and problem trends that require engagement with students and parents. He acknowledged that at the elementary school level, it’s hard for children to cut school without the complicity of their parents, and the Showing Up initiative would require support from parents and the community at large.

When it comes to involving parents in solutions, Vidales said, the district’s attendance-tracking system allows teachers to see the history of communication with each student’s parents, and to provide information on when any follow-up meetings may be needed.

But improved tracking, reporting and communication are only the first step, Vidales said.

“After a couple of months with this, we’ll be able to design some actions based on the data we receive,” Vidales said.

Absences don’t just affect the students who miss school, according to Vidales. He noted teachers have to use classroom time to get those kids caught up when they return.

“What we’re trying to say is coming to school matters,” Vidales said. “It impacts your school success and your classmates’ ability to be successful.”

The superintendent said curbing truancy is crucial, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. He said that although state funding is based on attendance, the campaign to reduce absenteeism is about much more than just making sure kids are physically present.

“Showing Up involves a lot of other things, like supporting students so they’re prepared to learn when they come to school,” Vidales said. “This is beyond making sure they’re in their seats so we get funding.”

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