On Friday, September 5, 2014, The Santa Cruz County Office of Education and the Keeping Kids in School Task Force held a press conference on the steps of Superior Court to promote Attendance Awareness Month. The event highlighted the solidarity among all school districts and community agencies in reducing excessive absenteeism in schools in our county during the 2014-15 school year.
Over 40 community members, representing the countywide Superintendent’s Council, County School Boards Association, the Executive Office of the Courts, Judges, District Attorney’s office, Public Defender, Probation Chief, Sheriff’s Department, Watsonville Police Department and Santa Cruz City Police Chief Kevin Vogel, representing the County Police Chiefs Association, were in attendance.
In order for the county’s 38,000 students to achieve academic success and reach their highest potential, they must be in school on time, all day, and every day. To support this goal, the Keeping Kids in School Task Force and the Santa Cruz County Office of Education is partnering with school superintendents across Santa Cruz County, and other community leaders in joining a nationwide effort to celebrate Attendance Awareness Month in September. We collectively pledged to raise awareness about the value of regular school attendance and focus on reducing chronic absenteeism in the new school year.
The Keeping Kids in School Task Force (KKIS) was created in January 2014 as our local response to the State Attorney General’s report on chronic absenteeism and the Chief Justice’s Summit on Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court. KKIS includes members from every school district, elected officials, social services, health services, community members, faith based community leaders, students, and the judicial system. The Keeping Kids in School Task Force members recognize that good attendance is essential to academic success. But far too many students are at risk academically because they are chronically absent. Chronic absence is described as missing 10 percent of the school year—or about 18 days—for any reason, excused or unexcused. Research shows that this is the point at which absenteeism begins to affect student performance.
In Santa Cruz County nearly 1200 K-5 grade students are either moderately or chronically absent from school each year and nationally over 7 million students miss over a month of school—which equates to 135 million days of lost instruction. The impact of this epidemic plays out in many ways, impacting our juvenile courts, local economy, family dynamics, school systems and our community. The research shows that chronic absence predicts lower 3rd grade reading proficiency, course failure and eventual dropout. The impact hits low-income students particularly hard, especially if they don’t have the resources to make up for lost time in the classroom and are more likely to face barriers getting to school, such as unreliable transportation and chronic health issues.
“School Attendance matters to our entire community, not just those with school-age children,” stated Michael Watkins, County Superintendent. “When our schools successfully graduate more students, our communities and our economy are stronger. Consistent school attendance leads to academic achievement which leads to more youth prepared to be productive citizens in the workplace and our community.”
During Attendance Awareness Month, we are asking school leaders, community advocates, parents and students to act upon these critical first steps to help stem chronic absenteeism in their schools:
- Build a habit and a culture of regular attendance
- Use data to monitor when chronic absence is a problem, and
- Identify and solve barriers to getting children to school.
“Through a consistent community wide effort – we can turn the tide on chronic absenteeism,” stated Judge Heather Morse, Chair of the Keeping Kids in School Task Force. “We must make school attendance a priority, driving with data and using positive supports to engage families and students in showing up to school every day.”
“The importance of an educated citizenry for our democracy was not lost upon the founders of this nation. They provided land grants to every community to build schools in which the future citizens would be educated in reading, writing and arithmetic. It was understood that our democratic liberties, and a prosperous people would only survive with an educated and knowledgeable citizenry. Successive generations recognize this wisdom, and we must pass on this heritage of encouraging and supporting our youth to become those future citizens, knowledgeable and active in the creation of our neighborhoods, communities and society. Let’s keep all those kids in school!”
– Chris Nunez, Chair-Elect – Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission
“Education is the most powerful tool which you can use to change the world”
– Nelson Mandela
To support this countywide effort, please download and place our poster in your school, agency or business. Help us build a better tomorrow—Keep Kids in School!
Chronic Absence: A Hidden National Crisis
By Michael C. Watkins and Heather Morse
Published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on September 7, 2014
Visit the Attendance Works web site.