Del Mar school district aiming to improve attendance, reduce tardies

By Karen Billing

September may be Attendance Awareness Month, but the Del Mar Union School District has already placed a special emphasis on attendance this year. The district has rolled out a new slogan, “In school, on time, every day,” a message it is sending out to all school families and one that appears on banners on all campuses.

“We don’t want to let it drop and just be a September thing,” said Cara Schukoske, director of pupil services. “Our principals have committed to collecting information and to make recommendations to be consistent in the ways we’re promoting good attendance…We want students to be in class learning as much as possible.”

Schukoske said the district’s interest and concern regarding attendance was prompted by a 2013 report on truancy and absenteeism by Attorney General Kamala Harris.

“There were startling findings relating to student achievement and attendance, as well as graduation rates,” Schukoske said.

According to the California Department of Education, 691,470 California elementary students or one out of every five elementary students was reported to be truant in the 2011-12 school year. In the state, a student is truant if they are absent or tardy by more than 30 minutes without a valid excuse more than three times a year.

Estimates based on a sample of California school districts in Harris’ report found that more than 250,000 students are estimated to miss 10 percent or more of the school year. Almost 83,000 California students have more than three weeks of unexcused absences and 20,000 elementary school children miss 36 days or more of school in a year.

Schukoske said that they hope to send a positive message, to make students feel good about being in school. The district’s immediate focus is on “tardies” in the morning, placing more attention on students who are late and creating initiatives and activities to reduce tardies.

“Tardies don’t only impact the student who’s late,” Schukoske said. “It disrupts all the students in class when a student is late.”

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