The numbers are startling: last year, 35% of Seaside High School students were identified as “chronically absent,” or missing more than 18 days of school in an entire school year.
Assistant principal Jason Boyd wants to turn that around.
“In our district last year 35% of kids at the high school were chronically absent — that was a jaw dropper,” Boyd said. “I had no idea. Right now we’re sitting at 25-30%. Our goal is all kids will attend 95% of school days by 2024.”
For students, there’s a correlation between attendance and success in school, Boyd said. “Kids who miss school more regularly are more likely to struggle.”
Boyd, addressing Chamber of Commerce visitors on Wednesday, June 5, said he plans to get attendance rates up “in the same way you would eat an elephant — “one bite at a time.”
Boyd, a former Seaside High School teacher and athletic director who became assistant principal in September, said schools are taking a new approach to absenteeism. “As assistant principal, how am I going to improve attendance in school so that kids will leave here with the skills they need to enter the workforce?”
Detention and suspension are giving way to positive reinforcement for attendance and personalized attention for all students, “finding creative ways to keep them in the building and keep them here.”
Transportation is key — providing options before and after school.
The issue is statewide, he said, as statistics have shown Oregon plummeting from a high-attendance, high-score achieving state to one near the bottom of the ranks. In 2015, with more than one in six students chronically absent from school, the state developed a joint statewide education plan to address chronic absences of students. Poverty, homelessness and other forms of trauma can all lead to stress that can lead to absenteeism.
The Every Day Matters program creates partnerships with local and state health agencies, community based organizations, community and business members and families seeking to address the root causes of chronic absenteeism for all students, with a focus on local context.
Among resources and initiatives in the Seaside School District, “keep track of time” chart offers a way for students to track missed days.
Councilors work with students one-on-one and in groups to build confidence, Boyd said.
Absentee students are welcomed on their return, and classrooms are encouraged to achieve 100% attendance rates, rewarded by ice cream or cake once a month.
High-attending students are eligible for gift cards from Del’s Chevron.
Students work with adult advocates to talk about daily stresses and create positive interactions.
The high school's attendance assistant Shirley Yates has met with every student whose attendance rate is below 90%. Her goal is to let them know they matter, she said.
She described a student who was leaving the building after every first period she said. “Somebody welcomed him and he’s been here every day.”
Resources at all grade levels are necessary, not just for the years prior to graduation. Kindergartners and seniors have the worst absenteeism rates, Boyd added.
The push for improved attendance could improve graduation rates. According to Boyd, seven freshmen not on track to graduate at the end of the winter trimester last year. This year only two freshmen were not on track to graduate.
Boyd recognizes combating absenteeism will be a long-time effort.
“How do we create a culture that says we want you in school, we need you in school?” he asked. “Students with solid attendance are most likely to graduate. It is super difficult to fail if you’re there every day — there are kids who have tried, but it’s super difficult.”