Attendance is Critical to Success

September was Attendance Awareness Month, and Great Oakland Public Schools took the opportunity to ask principals at Oakland schools about their approaches to good attendance. In this edition of Learn with Us, we would like to share some of their great ideas with you. We also spoke with Tanya Harris, Oakland Unified School District Manager of Transitional Kindergarten, to find out why she thinks attendance is important to focus on in transitional kindergarten. Here’s what Tanya had to say:

The research is clear around attendance being tied to reading and academic success, transitions to middle school and high school, and higher graduation rates. In transitional kindergarten (TK), students are focusing not only on building academic foundations for success, but on social and emotional development because both are equally important for success in school. Students in TK are learning to use language to communicate their needs, build relationships with other children and teachers, and be more self-regulated in a classroom setting.

A big part of the strategy for social-emotional development in Oakland Unified is through complex social play, which makes building these essential skills fun for students. Teachers receive training and support to create an environment that encourages interactions, hands-on, play-based activities, and builds on children’s natural interests and curiosities. Children develop a love of learning at the same time that they learn how to do classroom routines and get along with others.

Another essential element of child success that is central in TK is parent and family engagement. For parents of transitional kindergarteners, this may be the first time they have ever come to a school setting. Building strong attendance in transitional kindergarten is an opportunity to build partnerships with children’s first teachers: their families. And when families are connected to the school community they have an incentive to make sure their children don’t miss school.

We hope you enjoy the following newsletters from Great Oakland Public Schools Leadership Center, which highlight fun and effective strategies that Oakland principals have used to bring a measureable boost to their attendance rates.

Learn with Us


When you’re a kid, you usually don’t see how much work your parents put into getting you out the door to school on time every day. I know I had no clue (retroactively, thanks Mom!). It’s not easy, especially for a single parent like my mom or a two working parent household, which together make up the vast majority of homes today. But even occasional absences can cause real issues.

  • Student Success: Missing just 2 days a month across the school year counts as chronic absence (= 10 percent of the year), which is strongly correlated with low academic performance and higher dropout rates.
  • School culture: Chronic absences affect the whole class, as teachers have to bring absent students up to speed, slowing down instruction for all students.
  • Funding: Poor attendance results in lost revenue: schools receive about $30/day per student, and in 2010-11, Oakland students missed over 300,000 school days (6.5 days per student). If every student attended just one more day, it would bring over $1 million to our schools!

September is Attendance Awareness Month
We’re part of a coalition of Oakland organizations working to spread the word. So we asked some Oakland principals what they’re doing to increase attendance. Here are three responses:

  • Principal Cliff Hong of Roosevelt Middle School knew that too many students were missing school but it wasn’t until he analyzed the data that he saw the picture clearly. As many as 15 percent of students were missing nearly a month of school every year. Within a year, however, Hong cut his absentee rate in half and saw his school’s standardized test scores climb by 30 scale points. How did they do it? Two years ago, they established an attendance team that meets weekly and tracks each chronically absent student by name. They assign each student to an attendance team member who follows up with that student and family to problem solve together. These efforts led to a reduction of chronically absent students from 15 to 7 percent in one year.
  • Paulette Smith, principal at Joaquin Miller Elementary School, and her teachers stress the importance of attendance to parents at Back-To-School Night and to students at their Wolverine Pride Assembly, where they recently showed the district’s new “I’m an Oakland School Kid” attendance video (81,000 hits, nice!). Principal Smith and the attendance clerk recognize classes for 97 percent or higher rates at monthly assemblies.
  • Kate Nicol, Head of School at Vincent Academy, described several approaches. They give parents attendance tickets so that they have a visual reminder of how many absences their child has had during the year. When a child has earned perfect attendance for a month, they get a brand new t-shirt that they can wear on a special day once a month when the school celebrates their attendance success. They are also handing out “Ready Freddy” stickers each morning at the gate to kids who are on time. The kids wear the stickers all day and some are collecting them in little notebooks – she says it’s pretty cute!

Upcoming on Attendance

  • We will continue to post school approaches to attendance on our Facebook page – like us to get updates in your feed on this and many other important issues in Oakland schools!
  • The awesome Attendance Toolkit created by the Oakland Education Cabinet is available on-line here. It has fliers, incentive ideas, assessments, and more – check it out.
  • GO Public Schools Leadership Center and its partners are making attendance the topic of our first Oakland Achieves Focus Report on improving what matters for our children’s success in school. Sign up here to be the first to be notified when the report is released this year.


Basketball Hall-of-Famer Magic Johnson says that growing up, he practiced every day, and he also went to school every day. “School is your best shot at a better life,” Magic says in this video, as he urges parents and kids to make it a priority to attend school each day.September is Attendance Awareness Month, and we’re part of a coalition of Oakland organizations working to spread the word. Last year nearly one out of nine children in Oakland Unified were chronically absent, meaning they missed almost a month of school, which is associated with lower achievement.

We’ve been asking principals at Oakland public schools about their approaches to good attendance. At Garfield Elementary, principal Nima Tahai said his school uses a process that has helped cut the school’s chronic absence rate in half (from 15 to 6.7 percent). Go Wildcats!

  • Weekly Analysis and Action: The Garfield Attendance Team meets weekly to study attendance data from all angles and over time. When the team scanned the data from previous school years, they found that 15 percent of kindergartners were chronically absent. How did Garfield respond? The Attendance Team and teachers hosted three community dinners to build relationships with families and take the time to say, “Your child means a lot to us and we want to see her (or him) every day, on time.” Families felt recognized and more committed to the Wildcat community and attendance improved.
  • Being clear on and celebrating the ultimate goal: Garfield staff recognize scholars (students) who have perfect attendance with greater frequency. On a weekly basis, perfect attendees receive a “Wildcat Wow” to be redeemed for a healthy treat at lunch and entered into a drawing for a college t-shirt. Three times a year, at report card time, Wildcat staff celebrate students with excellent attendance at assemblies with certificates and Wildcat Paws. Students with great attendance get celebrated on bulletin boards, too.
  • Case Management: Garfield provides intensive family support to students with extended histories of chronic absence, focusing on root causes and relationship building with each family. These students attend “Garfield Goers” special events with a focus on growth and improvement in attendance.

GO is releasing a report with our many Oakland Achieves partners later this school year on attendance in Oakland schools – what the barriers are for students attending school and where great strategies are working. Want to be the first to know when it’s released? Sign up here.

We’ll leave you with words from Charles Wilson, principal of Alliance Academy: “Good teaching equals strong attendance! When students feel connected to the learning, they want to come to school!”




Great Oakland Public Schools Leadership Center is an Oakland nonprofit organization that supports a coalition of Oakland families, students, teachers, principals, and community leaders united around a positive, student-oriented vision for public education in our city.

GO’s work to provide information about policy and decision-making to Oakland public education stakeholders and to advocate on behalf of students and public schools requires resources. We need your support.

Selected photos by Hasain Rasheed.

©2013 Great Oakland Public Schools Leadership Center – 472 Water Street, Oakland CA 94607 – 510-868-8800