NPS Attendance Campaign Captures the Imagination of Principals, Teachers and Parents

– Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow Campaign Gains Momentum as Newark Schools Develop Customized Approaches to Tackle Absenteeism –
[Newark, NJ – November 18, 2013] – During September, in conjunction with the start of the school year, the Newark Public Schools (NPS) launched its “Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow,” campaign, an ambitious attendance improvement program to address a Newark epidemic evidenced by more than 300,000 absences for elementary students and 60 percent of high school students absent more than 20 days during the previous school year.

With the goal to cut absenteeism by 50 percent, NPS has made sweeping changes to the city’s attendance expectations, mandating each school principal to work in conjunction with that community, the assistant superintendent’s support teams and the Office of Family and
Community Engagement to build individualized strategic plans of accountability.

“NPS is so pleased with the results we are seeing from each school,” stated Superintendent Cami Anderson. “This campaign is showing the power of the One Newark concept. Together, we have emphasized the impact attendance has on academic performance, but individually we are seeing tremendous activity and creativity and accountability to address this common goal. School teams, which include staff, parents and students, have been empowered to build plans that address the needs of their students. As a result of these collaborations some schools such as Newark Early College High School are seeing their attendance rates rise to 96.7% and higher at nearly every grade level.”

Principal Sylvia Esteves at Park Elementary School said, “What we have done in the past to promote exemplary attendance and timeliness is clearly not enough, so we must change and look for modern solutions. The Superintendent has provided a clear mandate as it relates to reducing absenteeism, along with the tools that are required for us to construct effective solutions. As a result of her guidance we have developed a program that is multifaceted and is informative for all our stakeholders.”
Some of the highlights of successful programs that have been launched in the last month include:

The Buddy System

NJ Regional Day School staff and students have formed a Buddy System, which is part of an accountability system that holds students and staff responsible for individual attendance. Emphasizing attendance as a behavior, the program includes a committed Support Team that meets with students at the first indication of an absenteeism issue. Students appear before the team, which includes one or two peers, a teacher, social worker and the principal to talk out issues. The Buddy System is founded on the school’s 3 A’s belief system which include Attendance, Appearance and Attitude.
Marta Battle, the school’s social worker said, “We have experienced great success with students correcting their behaviors and teaming up with buddies who serve as role models and provide support for improved behaviors.”

The Golden Apple

Oliver Street School has developed an incentive program called the Golden Apple for classes that achieve perfect attendance by the week and for the month. The first week that classes achieve perfect attendance, a red apple with the classes’ room number is placed on a life size tree in the main hallway. After four consecutive weeks, the class receives a poster with a golden glittery designed apple for their doorway and the red apple on the tree is replaced with a golden apple.
Principal Douglas Petty said the golden apple has created a healthy competition and sense of pride, “I recently overhead a teacher encouraging her class to remember they too can receive a golden apple. She said, “Let’s watch our absences, think how beautiful that poster will look on our classroom door.”

The Data Dashboards

Maple Avenue School teachers and administrators have built out a data dashboard that reveals daily numbers to improve attendance, school culture and discipline. Each day a team of teachers and administrators log in tardy rates, absences, and unofficial early departures. The data allows the team to dig deeper and analyze which students are experiencing problems that will lead to chronic absences.

Principal Deneen Washington noted that during an orientation with her staff, they agreed the following observation would be their motivating factor, “A student who is late 15 minutes on a regular basis misses 15 minutes of instruction a day, that amounts to 75 minutes a week, 150 minutes biweekly and 300 minutes per month, which is equivalent to one whole school day of missed instruction.”

The New Student Tracking System
Park Avenue School has developed a new student tracking system that allows teachers and administrators to monitor students’ daily attendance, tardiness, home communication, student communication and medical excuses. The information is then discussed at weekly School Support Team Meetings. Parents are notified about the data via written communications, phone calls and regular meetings.

Paulo Sociedade, a Park Avenue School Teacher said, “The attendance tracker helps us to focus on underlying causes and address chronic attendance.”
The district wide momentum has also captured the interest of downtown area businesses popular with students. Establishment owners at Halsey Deli, Dario’s, Mama’s Pizza, Pages, Blimpie’s and Harvest Table are helping by displaying posters and in some cases providing incentive programs.
Based on the belief that absenteeism can be reduced through targeted strategies that measure, monitor and act, the launch of the Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow campaign serves as a public rallying cry to cut absenteeism and tardiness in half over the next three years, adding a million hours of instruction. Specifically, the initiative mandates each school principal to work in conjunction with his/her community, the Assistant Superintendent’s support team and the Office of Family and Community Engagement to build individualized strategic plans of accountability. Each school must include a:
  • Calendar of events to track and celebrate progress throughout the year,
  • Components to support teachers and other school staff to reach out to families more regularly and proactively regarding attendance,
  • Public display of the school’s past attendance data with clear goals—for all families, community members, and visitors to see,
  • Strategy to re-engage and support the families of chronically absent students from the following year,
  • Reward system for students and schools with strong attendance records – and demonstrated improvement, as well as,
  • Community activities to engage neighborhood partners, including faith-based institutions, community organizations and local leaders.