Innovative Strategies from Innovative Districts to Engage & Support Students at Scale
As schools nationwide wrap up another challenging school year and look ahead to planning for 22–23, the need for smart and scalable strategies is more pressing than ever. This is particularly true for the large urban districts, serving diverse students and families, with a plurality of unique needs. At our Power of Present Attendance Summit, district leaders Chelsea Montgomery, Executive Director of Student Services at Fulton County Schools (FCS) and Sarah Peterson, Senior Director of Attendance, Research and Innovation at the NYC Department of Education, shared the challenges their districts have faced, as well as some of the strategies they’ve been using to move the needle for family engagement and student success.
A New Outlook on Attendance
The team at FCS had previously been focusing solely on average daily attendance rate and missing the high chronic absenteeism rates hidden just below the surface. Realizing their ADA rate was telling a much rosier story than the reality, they shifted to view attendance through the tiers outlined by Attendance Works, and have adjusted their MTSS framework accordingly.
FCS also pushed their families to view attendance differently, beyond truancy and unexcused absences, because every day provides valuable instructional time, and even an excused absence still adds up to a missed learning opportunity.
In NYC Schools, the team shifted to more frequent data reviews and discussions to connect the dots and understand attendance challenges. Additionally, they knew in order to really improve attendance, they had to effectively engage their communities. Community Schools were created to to support the whole child and whole community, and have been proven to help improve chronic absenteeism through numerous studies.
Strategies that Give Time Back
Evidence-based solutions reign supreme at FCS, and attendance is no exception. Describing how she decided on EveryDay Intervention, Chelsea Montgomery shared, “I was looking for an evidence-based intervention for attendance. And then when I saw one that we didn’t have to do anything, I thought, well this is even better!” By implementing EveryDay Intervention, the district “bought back time to get our social workers working with kids.” Staff were no longer spending precious time on administrative work, but instead doing more home visits and building stronger relationships.
In addition to leveraging the family support resources from EveryDay Intervention, FCS has also incorporated a partnership with findhelp.org to help connect families to a wide array of community resources. We’ve even programmed the Family Support Bot within EveryDay Intervention to help connect FCS families to these findhelp.org resources.
The NYC Department of Education also found success with the mail and text attendance nudges, as it engaged, and sometimes surprised, many families who were now able to see the full picture of their students’ attendance.
Additionally, Sarah Peterson shared a video to highlight the evidence-based Success Mentors program, part of the Every Student, Every Day initiative within the Community Schools model. Pairing high needs students with a caring mentor had such a profound impact in reducing chronic absenteeism across the city that it was scaled to a national level to connect more students with a mentor who motivates and inspires them to be in school, every day.
The work continues for both district leaders and their teams, as they incorporate new strategies that maximize their resources and effectively work for their entire school community.