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Campaign Focuses On School Attendance
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Increasing student attendance rates and raising awareness about the importance of school attendance is the goal of a recently-launched campaign by the Oakdale Joint Unified School District.

A few years ago, OJUSD participated in back to back attendance campaigns as part of a county wide initiative but this is the first year that the district has done its own attendance campaign.

Larry Mendonca, OJUSD Director of Pupil Services, said that they had a positive result with the past campaigns when they did comparative studies. In the first year, he said, they had an average increase in attendance district wide by .815 percent from the prior year, which is about 30 more students daily for approximately $1,000 per day in Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funds.

He added that the district wants to get everyone tuned back into the attendance message.

“When you’re talking resources, major cutbacks, class sizes… It’s a big deal,” Mendonca acknowledged. “…Everybody is looking for ways to mitigate their cuts.”

He noted that although Oakdale schools have a fairly good attendance rate at 96 percent, that still equates to nearly 200 students absent daily. OJUSD is losing about $6,000 dollars or more daily in ADA money – revenue they’re not getting because of absences, many of which are unnecessary.

Absenteeism also has a negative effect on student performance and the campaign aims to educate staff, students and parents on the importance of attending school every day.

Mendonca made the point that school district officials do not want children who are legitimately ill to come to school; however, in their experience they contend that a good portion of the absent students are not sick enough to miss school and they’re absent for minor reasons.

“Students are getting a disservice if they’re allowed to stay home for benign reasons,” Mendonca said.

There are students who will miss entire days or the vast majority of a day because of doctor or dental appointments, he reported.

“We have a lot of parents who understand and then bring (their student) right back after appointments,” he noted, “but some just skip the rest of the day.”

The student has to be in school for a predominant amount of the day, approximately four hours total, in order for the district to receive ADA money for that student. He said the school can take that time in the afternoon to make up missed seat time, still get the ADA, and educate the student.

“Habitual, chronic absent cases happen for a variety of reasons,” Mendonca stated.

For example, he said that they will see students falter in school when there are significant gaps of time in attendance due to things such as trips to see family, or missing one to two days of school every week. He added that they see students get vastly behind their peers in these cases and that there is a “huge correlation” between chronic attendance issues and poor performance.

In those cases, he reported that they have a school attendance review team to meet with families and help connect them with community agencies, if needed, for resources in order to address those issues.

“Those patterns have a tendency to go from year to year to year, and we address those,” Mendonca said. “Students who find themselves behind their peers usually are because they’re missing seat time and not in school on a daily basis.”

He added that when students are falling behind in school, it’s either because of disabilities or poor attendance.

OJUSD’s attendance is ahead of the curve statewide but there’s still room for improvement, Mendonca said. He indicated that statewide for other unified school districts, the attendance rate for 2010-2011 was 94.86 percent and in 2011-2012 the rate was 95.23 percent.

Mendonca reported as part of the attendance campaign, each of the school sites in the district has introduced their own incentive programs. These may include recognizing classes or individuals who have outstanding attendance, charms or tags to wear for students with regular attendance, drawings for gift cards and prizes for perfect or improved attendance, prize visits from district office staff to classrooms with excellent attendance, perfect attendance assemblies for recognition and rewards, and more.

Mendonca shared that every statistic shows that students who miss school regularly will not be on track to graduate and he also provided a few of the statistics below.

• When students miss a day of school, it actually puts them two days behind their classmates.

• Students who are absent an average of 15 days a year miss a whole year’s worth of school before their senior year.

• Students who miss as little as five days begin to show a reduction in student performance data.

OJUSD officials suggested a few ways for parents to show support and help their child’s educational performance. Parents can make sure their child is in school daily unless they’re genuinely ill; they can schedule family vacations during school holidays; they can bring their child back to school after appointments or schedule the appointments after school hours; and they can find out what their school is doing to support the campaign and offer to help.

Results of the campaign will also be shared at an OJUSD school board meeting at the end of the school year.