A Story of Forward Momentum for engaged students, families, and community.
Posted on 11/10/2023
A Story of Forward Momentum for engaged students, families, and community. A Story of Forward Momentum for engaged students, families, and community.

Since the 2020-2021 school year, chronic absenteeism has been a rising challenge for many schools in our district and across the nation. Although, over the course of the last two years, some schools have decreased absenteeism in their school community, the reality is there are still great opportunities for improvement across the county. Recognizing this issue is not one schools can address alone, Superintendent Justin Robertson and Deputy Superintendent Sonia Stewart tasked several district staff with identifying areas where the district can support schools and families.

The Chronic Absenteeism Committee is led by HCS Family & Community Engagement Director Kate Skonberg and includes Dr. Caitlyne Steward, Coordinator of Community Schools, Jim Boles, Director of Access and School Choice, and Angela Clark, Family Connection Center Manager. About chronic absenteeism, Kate says, “It is not a challenge that can be tackled in isolation, so it’s important that we address it at the county level. It requires a collective effort from educators, parents/caregivers, students, and our community. Working together, we can create an environment where every student and family feels supported and empowered to attend school regularly and reach their full potential.”

Chronic absenteeism is different from general attendance or truancy. This type of absenteeism occurs when students miss 10% or more school days for any reason – regardless of if they are excused or unexcused. Research tells us that students who are chronically absent are at risk across each grade band. Chronic absenteeism has been linked to students having challenges with third-grade reading proficiency, engagement in middle school, and on-time graduation. The Chronic Absenteeism Committee is working to respond to the four primary root causes of chronic absenteeism: misconceptions about the impact of absences, aversion to school, disengagement from school, and barriers to attendance.

Jim Boles, Director of Access and School Choice and former CSAS Principal said, “Most students learn best when in front of a teacher, and they must be in school for that to happen. As a former school principal, it is incredibly important that families understand the importance of their students being in school each and every day. I believe the work of our committee is critical in working to ensure that all children thrive.”

This long-term project aims to reduce the district’s chronic absenteeism rate by almost 11% by Spring 2030. In their first year of work, the committee is focused on cleaning up the way attendance is tracked throughout the county, making it easier for families to engage with the attendance process, and helping schools identify their own school community’s root causes for chronic absenteeism. They are currently working to convene an Attendance Task Force made up of district and school-based leaders that will develop an HCS Attendance Manual.The manual will streamline attendance rules and practices across the district and outline the responsibilities and expectations of school and district staff, families, and students when responding to the spectrum of attendance. The HCS attendance spectrum includes general attendance, truancy, and chronic absenteeism. By next school year, the team intends to roll out a new tool built into PowerSchool that will allow the district to support schools in communicating with families about their child’s attendance before they’re chronically absent and will support families in easily communicating with their child’s school about absences, and more clearly monitor their child’s absences over time.

Dr. Steward says she is excited about having a tool that promotes pathways of effective communication and collaboration between families and school teams. “We know that families want what’s best for their children, including school success. This is a first step toward encouraging regular attendance before we can dig deeper into reducing systemic barriers.”

Chronic absenteeism is important to the district as a part of our commitment to Every Community Served and ensuring that every family, partner, mentor, and advocate will be connected and empowered in their critical role in supporting our students to become life-ready. Ultimately, in addition to improving student learning outcomes, addressing the root causes of chronic absenteeism will improve students’ and families’ feelings of belonging in our schools.

“I believe Hamilton County Schools is the best place to be and the best place to learn,” said Elaine Harper, North River Learning Community Superintendent. “Our district is taking steps to ensure all students and families feel the same. Kids who love their school and have a connection point, whether through friends, teachers, clubs, or sports, are more likely to be regularly present for class. This is something I’m passionate about instilling in all of our schools and I look forward to continuing to support the work of the district’s Chronic Absenteeism Committee.”

The Chronic Absenteeism Committee’s work will drive the strategies taken not only by the school district, but also by the Hamilton County Children’s Cabinet as we work together to improve student attendance across the county. Addressing chronic absenteeism is vitally important to the well-being of our students, and we are optimistic that if families, our school and district staff, and community partners work together, we can make an impact.