Headed back to school

Headed back to school

PUSD efforts at fighting truancy pay off 

By Mariela Patron 06/11/2014

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The Pasadena Unified School District increased student attendance since last fall by implementing programs that promoted the importance of everyday school attendance and improving its collection of data, according to school district officials. According to a report recently released by PUSD, 18 percent of students had three or more full-day unexcused absences in fall 2012. The absences decreased to 12 percent the following year.

“This year there’s been work in terms of the collaboration of getting meetings together [with parents]. The result has been a diminishing number of truancies compared to last year, as well as the number of days of illnesses,” said Eric Sahakian, director of PUSD’s Child Welfare, Attendance and Safety Office.

In California, truancy is when a student is tardy or absent by more than 30 minutes without a valid excuse. Pasadena Board of Education member Renatta Cooper credits the increase in attendance to PUSD schools intervening immediately when a student is truant. 

Since the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, PUSD began using Attention to Attendance (A2A), a computer-generated program that sends notification letters to parents when their child is truant. 
A2A’s letters start with a warning which reiterates truancy laws. If the student still fails to attend school, a second letter is sent and the school attendance review team has its first personal intervention with the student. If that fails, a third letter requires the student to meet with the school attendance review board where often a prosecutor is present.

“There was the protocol in place before, but with the infusion of the higher letters involved we’ve seen a larger number of meetings,” Sahakian said. As of March 5, 25,548 letters were printed and mailed to parents. Sahakian said truancy is usually halted by the second letter.

The Glendale Unified School District, according to Bo Patatian, attendance liaison at GUSD, adopted the A2A system in 2010. In the 2012-13 school year, GUSD had a 95.44 percent attendance rate in elementary schools and 94.98 percent in high schools.

PUSD also increased its attendance rate by collecting better data, Cooper said. In the past, many students remained registered in PUSD even when they moved to a different district. This directly affected the number of students marked as truant, she said.

“When your ability to collect and analyze data catches up with the policy it shows an improvement,” Cooper said. 

Increases in student attendance means more money for the school district. PUSD received an additional $22,000 by recovering 5,584 days of attendance in fall 2013 compared to fall 2012. In addition to A2A, PUSD also adopted the “I’m In!” campaign, a district-wide strategy to fight truancy and give students at risk of dropping out additional options to complete the requirements necessary for graduation. 

The district had its first Student Recovery Day last September which involved officials and volunteers visiting the homes of truant students to find out why they had been missing school.

“It [Student Recovery Day] was more of informing and reeducating our parent community in attendance laws and their responsibilities to getting school achievement,” Sahakian said. 

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