Board looks at strategies for improving student absenteeism

Published 6:28 am Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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The Albert Lea school board on Monday discussed strategies to improve attendance for students in the district and ways that could continue to expand in the future.

Tonya Franks, executive director of academics and accountability for the district, said students who attend school consistently are more likely to achieve academically, are more likely to graduate and are not only ready for college, but are also ready for careers and life as a whole.

She defined consistent attendance as attending more than 90% of school days and chronic absenteeism as missing 10% of school days — or the equivalent of one day out of every two weeks, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

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Franks did not have the attendance numbers for the district this year yet but said the greatest tool will come at the end of the year when looking at how many students have been referred because of their absenteeism.

“I would hope that the strategies we’ve implemented will make a difference,” she said.

At the high school level, some of the strategies have included adding FLEX classes, in which students can build connections with a teacher. There are also parent or caregiver phone calls, texts and emails through both an automated system and directly from teachers, deans, counselors and social workers.

A letter is sent after three absences.

After that is a truancy referral and attendance contract, followed lastly by court-ordered school.

She said at the middle school level, there is an advisory class that is similar to a FLEX class, where teachers create a safe and welcoming environment for their students.

There are also phone calls and letters after three and seven absences.

The dean meets one-on-one with the student after three absences and comes up with a plan that both the student and dean sign off on.

The truancy officer also meets with the student after seven days of absences.

At the elementary level, she said strategies include parent and caregiver phone calls, letters after three, five, seven and 10 absences.

There are also attendance success plans developed through a meeting with caregivers to identify barriers the family may be experiencing and to create a plan to help them be successful.

“At the end of the day, our goal is to foster a collaborative approach to tackle absenteeism,” Franks said, noting they try to look at is a partnership with the family rather than being punitive or reactive.

They have looked at other possible strategies, including recognizing good and improved attendance, making sure to monitor attendance data, and providing personalized and easy outreach, looking at families’ desired daily experience goals.

She described the effort as a multi-tiered system of support with foundational supports on the bottom. As you move up the tiers, greater levels of intervention are needed.

She said relationships were critical in creating engaged students.

School board member Gary Schindler asked what the attendance data was for the district, and Franks said she would provide referral information at the end of the year because she believes the metrics at the state level are skewed because there is not a consistent measurement tool.

Superintendent Ron Wagner said it was important not only to look at the numbers but the individual needs.

When asked whether she thought the strategies were helping, Franks said she thought the district was on the right track, and particularly noted the impact of advisory and FLEX classes, as well as more of the one-on-one meetings.

Board member Neal Skaar pointed out the problem of attendance nationwide, not just for Albert Lea schools.