Friday, November 17, 2023

Questions from the Press re Attendance and Absenteeism, Friday, November 17, 2023.

Questions today from the Press Democrat/Sonoma Index-Tribune concern attendance and absenteeism for Sonoma Valley Unified. Here, also, is a link to my video comments on this subject, which I haven't done in the past, but I think people might be interested in viewing the meeting, too. Photo is of my sister, Heather, and my nieces Clara and Ruby, who I recently visited in Houston. 


1. Why is it important for SVUSD to decrease chronic absenteeism?

Decreasing chronic absenteeism is critical to our post-pandemic recovery as a school district. Like a car rejoining a freeway, it's time to accelerate and make up for lost time. The efforts from staff, teachers, and administrators in SVUSD mirror this sentiment, showing us getting back up to speed. While we're not all the way back to the low levels of absenteeism of 2018-2019, it's clear that the hard work and 'renorming' of behavior among students is paying off, especially considering the collective challenge we've overcome in handling the pandemic. There's more work to do, but I congratulate our teachers, staff, and admin for what they've accomplished so far. 

2. What is your main take-away from the chronic absenteeism data SVUSD?

The chronic absenteeism data from SVUSD is heartening, showing a rebound after the pandemic. The district's dedicated response, like a driver punching the gas to rejoin traffic, demonstrates a commitment to swiftly addressing and overcoming challenges posed by absenteeism.

3. Did anything about the statistics surprise you?

The doubling of chronic absenteeism rates during and after the pandemic is a stark reminder of the impact of extraordinary events. However, the responsive actions of SVUSD show a remarkable recovery process, reflective of our resilience in getting through the pandemic. For a government agency, that kind of focused, direct application of effort shows the strength of our local democratic institutions. I don't think it "surprised" me so much as encouraged me.

4. What accounts for the significant reductions in chronic absenteeism from 2021-22 to 2022-23?

The significant reductions in absenteeism can be attributed to the hard work and dedication of staff, teachers, and administrators. When it comes to attendance, they said "let's hit it," they put the pedal to the metal. The results speak for themselves. This effort shows SVUSD rapidly getting back up to speed.

5. Do you expect SVUSD’s overall chronic absenteeism percentage to continue to decrease, and eventually reach or be lower than the prepandemic level?

With the concerted efforts seen in SVUSD, mirroring the economic rebound analogy, there's a strong expectation that chronic absenteeism rates will continue to decrease. The district's rapid response and adaptive strategies suggest a return to, or surpassing of, pre-pandemic attendance levels is within reach.

6. Jillian Beall mentioned four areas of continued focus to reduce chronic absenteeism. Please tell me your thoughts about each one, starting with addressing the causes of absenteeism.

A. Addressing the Causes of Absenteeism: Addressing causes requires a sensitive approach, especially considering our collective experience with the pandemic and understanding for those who may engage in 'school avoidance', particularly students with disabilities.
B. Fostering Positive and Inclusive School Climates: Efforts to create welcoming environments in schools are akin to the supportive atmosphere we've all needed post-pandemic, helping students adjust back to a more normal context.
C. Lowering Absenteeism Rates for Specific Student Groups: Targeted support for groups like students with disabilities is essential, as the causes of 'school avoidance' are often driven by students failing to receive essential services that would provide them with a foundation for success.
D. Building Trust and Transparent Communications: The pandemic taught us the value of joint exercises and collaboration. Building trust through clear communication is central in continuing that team effort.

7. Tell me about efforts to foster positive and inclusive school climates.

SVUSD's efforts are reflective of the broader social effort in renorming behavior post-pandemic, creating environments where students feel supported and motivated to attend, just as we collectively adapted as a society to the continuing challenges of endemic COVID-19.

8. Tell me about efforts to continue to lower absenteeism rates for student groups (students with disabilities, EL, SED, etc.).

Addressing absenteeism in specific groups, especially students with disabilities, is critical. Our own experiences with 'school avoidance' lend empathy to these efforts, acknowledging the unique challenges these students face.

9. Tell me about efforts to continue to build trust and transparent communications.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of joint exercises and collective resilience. SVUSD's commitment to open communication is key in maintaining this spirit of unity and understanding.

10. Would you like to say anything else?

Reflecting on the progress made, it's clear that SVUSD's approach is similar to how our economy recovered post-pandemic. Abseentism is being reduced by rapid, determined, and effective action. The collective hard work and adaptability shown by everyone, from staff to students, should keep driving us in the right direction.