The purpose of these weekly Bright Spots is to promote peer exchange, peer networking, and peer learning by offering a concise, yet meaningful articles about the specific actions taken by Network communities. Continue on to read about New Britain or download the PDF document.

More elementary-school students are consistently showing up for classes in New Britain, Connecticut, thanks to the public school district’s concerted effort to identify students who are chronically absent – or soon to be.

“You’ve got to nip it in the bud,” says Joseph Vaverchak, the longtime public schools attendance director in New Britain, one of Connecticut’s poorest districts with about 10,500 students.

Between 2012 and 2013, the percentage of chronically absent students plummeted in New Britain’s 10 elementary schools – for kindergartners, from 30 to 18 percent; first graders from 24 to 13 percent; second graders from 19 to 14; and third graders from 15 to 11 percent.

Factors contributing to this success include:
• Guidance and tools from Attendance Works, a national initiative committed to addressing chronic absence and a Grade-Level Reading Campaign partner.
• A new focus on using data to pinpoint chronically absent students – rather than relying on a school’s average daily attendance, which can paint a falsely rosy picture and mask the individual students who repeatedly miss school.
• A new requirement that each principal develop a plan promoting good attendance.
• Two new part-time outreach workers who connect with the families of frequently absent kindergartners.

New Britain’s methodical approach to reducing chronic absence includes sending a report every 10 days to each school listing each student who is chronically absent, defined as missing 10 percent of the school year (about 18 days). So, for example, the report after 30 days of school identifies students who have missed three or more days.

The school’s attendance team – teachers, administrators, social workers, guidance counselors and the school nurse – then devises an action for each student listed. They might talk to the student, the student’s teacher and parents or send an outreach worker to the student’s home.

“Everybody is held accountable for what needs to be done so they’re addressing the kids right away,” says Vaverchak. The data provide “a way to analyze the situation and what’s causing the problem. Is it health-related? You could have the school nurse involved. Is it a parent health issue so now we can help the parent?”

New Britain also is taking the unusual step of addressing a contributing issue – high chronic absence in pre-Kindergarten programs. With help from Attendance Works, it automated its pre-K attendance system and created data teams – a practice more commonly used with older students.

New videos feature local parents explaining the importance of sending children to pre-K daily. Pre-K teachers keep an eye out for children who are absent frequently and sometimes contact their parents. A new part-time preschool outreach worker gets involved when need be.

Read more about New Britain’s work in an online publication from ASCD (the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development). 

For more information, contact Joe Vaverchak at 860-827-2246 or Vavercha@csdnb.org.

Bright Spots showcase the work that Grade-Level Reading communities are doing to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016. You can nominate a Bright Spot in your community by emailing Betsy Rubiner at brubiner@gradelevelreading.net.

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