Districtwide professional development
With the advent of the Connecticut State Department of Education’s (CSDE) Next Generation Accountability System, the District Data Team in New London began to realize that the district’s overall chronic absence rate had plateaued between 2014-15 and 2015-16 despite some reductions in individual schools. The District Data Team determined that an assessment of current practices was needed because some of the strategies used - which had proven effective in the past - were having sporadic success.
The district partnered with Attendance Works to conduct a districtwide assessment. The assessment revealed that chronically absent students were being identified, letters and calls home were being initiated, and attendance teams were in place. However, efforts were predominately focused on truant and unverified students. This prevented the district from “turning the curve” on chronic absenteeism. Central office staff determined that in order to ensure alignment of district and school goals, concentrated efforts to support principals was needed in the following areas: identifying best practices and establishing effective teams, making data more readily available, and building the capacity of school-based staff to use data to change practice. To achieve this call to action, the district implemented a districtwide professional development program that was inclusive of central office and school-based administrators and staff.
The components of the professional program included the following:
- Districtwide training -- School administrators and staff as well as central office staff, including the technical staff, participated in a series of three structured training sessions on what is required to create and sustain effective attendance teams.The sessions included the role of the principal as the leader in building a culture of attendance, the multi-tiered functions of an attendance team, how to message and communicate with families, aligning interventions with the causes of absence, and the strategic use of data for schoolwide accountability.One session focused on defining and distinguishing the roles and responsibilities of central office staff to provide districtwide supports such as data analysis, training on data entry and consistent communication messages to and materials for families.
- Alignment with School Improvement Plans – A full day training session was held to integrate attendance, academic success and school climate into each school’s improvement plan (SIP). The purpose of this was to ensure that the CSDE Next Generation Accountability System indicators, the district goals, and school goals addressing attendance and chronic absenteeism were fully aligned. Each school, as part of their SIP, developed a goal and action plan to improve attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism. Representatives from the CSDE and State Education Resource Center (SERC) assisted with facilitating the work.
- Training for substitute teachers – As a result of data analysis, the district data team became aware of a gap in their attendance-tracking practices. Many substitute teachers were not taking attendance and this was negatively impacting school and district attendance data. In collaboration with the substitute teacher placement service, the district developed training to ensure that attendance is taken every day (at the elementary level) and every period (at the secondary level). The service agreed to make clear to their substitutes that this was a responsibility of their employment in the district.
- Data team support – The district data team has used the PowerSchool Dashboards to make available real-time attendance data. Additionally, the PowerSchool team has placed an alert on any student that is on the verge of becoming chronically absent. All schools use these dashboards daily and they are refined, as needed, based on the input of school and district data teams. For example, Winthrop STEM Elementary Magnet School developed a data system whereby teams meet weekly and review academic, social/emotional, and absentee data to determine if an intervention is needed and in what area(s). The chronic absence rate at Winthrop School decreased from 20.6% in 2014-15 to 11.1 % in 2016-17.
- Shared fiscal responsibility and ownership -- The district and individual schools co-invested in the delivery of technical assistance and coaching from Attendance Works.
- District messaging campaign – As a district, NLPS is continuing to make their districtwide collaboration a priority in partnership with Attendance Works. The district is using the state campaign materials to promote the importance of attendance every day. “Attend today, Achieve tomorrow” - communicated throughout district by our schools and community partners, ensures that every child benefits from the quality education that NLPS offers every student.
Topic: Utilizing Data
Strategy: Districtwide Professional Development
District: New London Public Schools
District Snapshot: 3,559 Students; 1,802 Hispanic/Latino; 663 White; 688 African American; 6 Schools; 17.6% chronic absence rate (2015-16) and 16.3% (2016-17)
Contact Information: Ivelise Velazquez, Chief Academic Officer, 860-447-6000, firstname.lastname@example.org