February 20, 2020

Omaha Public Schools is On a Mission: “Every Student. Every Day. Prepared for Success.”

In August of 2018, the Omaha Public Schools started a district-wide attendance initiative under the leadership of its new superintendent, Dr. Cheryl Logan. It is led by a cross-functional team that includes Ms. Lisa Utterback, Chief Officer, Student and Community Services; Kami Piechota, Attendance Supervisor, Student and Community Services; and Amanda Marcinek, School Support Liaison, Student and Community Services. The initiative, branded Strive for 95, focuses on getting students to show up 95 percent of the academic year to ensure they have their best chance at life-long achievement.

To help districts that are looking to get in the fight against absenteeism, OPS sat down with us to share some insights learned from their attendance initiative so far.

Where did the work start for Omaha Public Schools? Or, to put it another way, what factors mobilized OPS to address absenteeism?

Research shows that students who attend school 95 percent of the time are more likely to be on or above grade level academically and remain on track to graduate. Students who meet their Strive for 95 goal are also more connected to teachers, peers, and their school community. Absenteeism and lower academic achievement are interrelated. Not only that but showing up on time every day is a life skill. As a direct result, in August 2018, the Omaha Public Schools began its district-wide focus Strive for 95. Factors that mobilized the Omaha Public Schools to develop a comprehensive approach to absenteeism included academic outcomes (proficiency rates in English Language Arts and proficiency in Math) and a consistent decline over the past three years in the number of students missing school.

Has OPS set a goal for Strive for 95? How will you measure its success?

By June of 2025, each school and program in the Omaha Public Schools will demonstrate an annual increase in the percentage of students missing less than nine days of school and demonstrate a reduction in the percentage of students identified as chronically absent.

What did it take to get district-wide buy-in?

During the onboarding of Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Logan, she charged Omaha Public Schools to create a focus for improving overall student attendance. As a direct result, each school wrote an attendance goal in its School Improvement Plan. Also, each school created an attendance team to strategically focus on using our Attendance Dashboard as a tool to analyze student attendance data. During regularly scheduled attendance team meetings, we identify students who would benefit from additional resources and supports to improve their attendance.

What are the key components of the Strive for 95 attendance initiative?

  • Making it a district-wide focus, uniting the district with shared-language to define a common goal
  • Every school having an attendance goal in their School Improvement Plan and developing attendance teams
  • Using data to drive attendance by allowing us to identify at-risk students, provide extra support to reduce barriers and celebrate successes
  • Making it inclusive; we involved all our building-level staff (i.e., administrators, teachers, secretaries, security guards, social workers, counselors, etc.)
  • We created a district-wide attendance handbook
  • Last but not least, there was and continues to be, professional development for key stakeholders

How do our Attendance Nudges support the broader initiative?

At the Omaha Public Schools, a multitude of communication reports are provided to support student attendance. There are six different attendance reports within our Attendance Dashboard that allow school attendance teams to closely monitor attendance data. In addition, each student receives a Strive for 95 individualized attendance report in the months of December and May. Finally, EveryDay Labs also mails their Absence Reports to at-risk and chronically absent students on our behalf at strategic times throughout the year.

Qualitatively or quantitatively, has there been a noticeable impact?

The Omaha Public Schools’ focus on attendance is paying off. The district stopped the downward regression of chronic absenteeism this past year, and we are excited to keep the needle moving in the right direction. Staff members, students, families, and community members are discussing the importance of attendance, they understand the Omaha Public Schools’ attendance processes, and are aware of the academic and social-emotional impact that attendance has on a student’s well-being. Showing up on time and every day is a life skill.

How is the district engaging with the idea of continuous improvement as it relates to addressing absenteeism?

The keywords here are continuous improvement. The Omaha Public Schools has worked as a district to create buy-in from all stakeholders to address chronic absenteeism. This work is indeed a team effort. Embedding attendance goals into each individual building’s School Improvement Plan, creating an Attendance Dashboard using Tableau, and requiring attendance teams to meet in person on a weekly basis to address attendance barriers for students are all ways the Omaha Public Schools will continue to address absenteeism in our district. The Omaha Public Schools has also included attendance in our Strategic Plan of Action and will continue to collaborate with schools, students, families, and community resources to improve attendance. We also work with other area districts to endorse a community effort regarding chronic absenteeism.

Are there key learnings you wish you would have known to go into the work that you want to share with other educators now?

One of the most important key learnings that the Omaha Public Schools took into consideration from the start was the importance of obtaining buy-in from school leaders as to why attendance matters. Building leaders are the drivers of the consistent focus on improving student attendance at their respective buildings. In addition, we are very fortunate in our district to have positive relationships and support from our families and community service providers who believe in the importance of student attendance. This has allowed us to work together and create a sense of collective efficacy focused on improving student attendance.

Getting students on track starts with attendance. We can help.