One district's attempt to improve student attendance

Can student attendance improve because of a superintendent's initiative? One district superintendent in southern California attempted to do just that. The purpose of this study was to examine the procedures implemented by the superintendent, administrators, teachers and other certificated employees within one school district to increase student attendance. The purpose of this study was also to research how the district's principals and certificated employees responded to the initiative set forth by the superintendent. On August 12, 2005, the superintendent issued a challenge to district employees to raise attendance 1%. If the district succeeded, it would generate $800,000. Half the money would go to pay off debt, and the balance would be divided evenly among the school sites. Qualitative data were collected through an individual interview with the superintendent and a survey instrument for the administrators and certificated employees. This study provides an overview of literature on the causes, results, reasons, and possible solutions to student absenteeism and drop out rates. The literature review also focused on the importance of student attendance and the role of school leaders and employees in decreasing student absenteeism. The intent of this study was to understand how an attendance-focused initiative set forth by the superintendent flowed from the administrators to the certificated staff. This study found that as a result of the superintendent's initiative all principals introduced a variety of new activities, programs, or practices in an effort to increase student attendance. Although there was increased focus on attendance by the superintendent, administrators, and certificated employees, attendance rates remained the same. The study also found the superintendent, administrators, and certificated employees believed teachers have the greatest influence on student attendance due to their day-to-day interaction with students. However, the principals and teachers overwhelmingly placed the onus of student attendance on the parents. The greatest challenge to increased student attendance facing each administrator, according to this study, is conveying to families the importance of attendance over vacations and/or long weekends. As one administrator commented, the challenge is, "parents may not believe that this (increasing student attendance) applies to them. 'I know, but it's just a day ... ' is often heard." Districts do not have the luxury of leaving the blame for student absenteeism on the parents and consider the matter settled. Hundreds of thousands and often times millions of dollars are at stake when students miss school. More importantly, students are not served by the educational community when they are absent from school. The superintendent, district, and site administrators for this study chose to be intentional about how they approach attendance.