Promising Practices to Reduce Chronic Absence

Freshman Academy

Danbury High School is the largest high school in Connecticut with 800 freshman for 2017-18. The goal of the Freshman Academy is to ensure that all students have a connection to school, are supported academically and socially through a systemic approach, and prepared to have a successful high school experience. The Freshman Academy is a comprehensive teamed approach that enables academy staff to implement targeted intervention strategies, effectively plan interdisciplinary learning experiences, and communicate progress and concerns to students' families.

The Freshman Academy is clustered into seven teams with common planning time for teachers and daily review of student outcomes by subject, behavior and attendance. Students stay with their peers most of the day. The “teaming” model provides additional support with a dean of support, more school counselors, as well as a principal specifically assigned to the freshman class.  "The research shows that the first year in high school is the determining year where students face the most challenges," said Superintendent Dr. Sal Pascarella. "Attendance rates drop, truancy increases and disciplinary cases increase unless you can create connections."

The distinguishing characteristics of the Danbury High School Freshman Academy include:

  1. Dean of Support—In 2012, with Alliance District grant funding, a dean of support position was created to intercede and coach at-risk students that had attendance problems and course failures. Bi-weekly meetings were held to establish SMART goals and Student Success Plans. The dean of support conducted home visits and organized improvement celebrations. This position was eliminated two years ago due to funding challenges.
  2. Open enrollment for all classes—Danbury High School allows students to participate in any class, including Advanced Placement (AP) classes, without first participating in prerequisite courses. This project has promoted student-centered personalized learning, empowering students with choices, and has led to higher expectations by teachers of what students can achieve.
  3. STAR Program—The STAR Program (Students at Risk) targeted eighth-graders to participate in a four-week intensive summer program where they received support completing summer assignments and established meaningful relationships with adults from the high school.
  4. Twilight School—Ninth-grade students who have first-semester course failures are provided with the opportunity participate in an afterschool credit recovery program. A significant percentage of the program participants are English Learners. Transportation was identified as a barrier to access this credit recovery program and is now provided to students participating in the Twilight School.


Smooth Transitions

Strategy: Freshman Academy

District: Danbury Public Schools

District Snapshot: 11,371 Students; 5,416 Hispanic/Latino; 4,052 White; 826 African American; 18 schools Grades PK-12; 7.4% chronic absence rate (2015-16) and 7.2% (2016-17)

Contact Information: Meghan Martins, Associate Principal for Instruction, Danbury High School,, 203-797-4802


Ryser, Rob. Danbury News Times. “Danbury High School giving special attention, new space to freshmen.” (20 December 2014)