We often talk about “Bright Spots” in our collective impact work through Bold Goals Education. Bright Spots are examples of success in improving outcomes for children and youth despite challenging circumstances.
Oliver Elementary School in Birmingham is a bright spot. Under the leadership of Selena Florence, the principal, Oliver has been an active participant in the Bold Goals Education 3rd Grade Reading Action Network. They have played a key role in helping pilot strategies to improve student attendance, which is a significant factor in improving reading proficiency.
Through the many partners within Bold Goals Education, including the Woodlawn Foundation and Woodlawn Innovation Network (WIN), the staff at Oliver was able to use its existing attendance data in new ways. Instead of just looking at average daily attendance, they learned how to follow the numbers of days absent for each student. They paid careful attention to absences of all kinds – excused or unexcused – and established new thresholds for when to intervene. A team of school staff members began reviewing the data regularly. They worked with David Liddell, Manager of Community Partnerships at WIN, to develop attendance plans for particular students. They also engaged a social work student from the University of Alabama to help make contact with parents.
Other partners worked together to help the Oliver staff view attendance data on a map to identify particular areas near the school where clusters of students with high absences were living. The mapping helped pinpoint a physical barrier to attendance – a pedestrian tunnel that was poorly lit and often flooded in the rain. Safe Routes to School and Hands on Birmingham, both programs of United Way of Central Alabama, worked together with the City of Birmingham to get the lights working in the tunnel, to clean the tunnel, and to prevent the flooding issues. Now the tunnel is a viable option for students who want to walk or ride their bicycles to school.
Another Bold Goals Education partner, the Birmingham Education Foundation (Ed), is working with Oliver and the Woodlawn Foundation to run a Network Priority Council at the school. Network Priority Councils are part of Ed’s signature task of network-building, which aims to build capacity around our schools to tackle tough issues and persistent challenges. With support from Ed staff, participating schools identify an issue, recruit a council of diverse community members and come up with a way to address their designated priority. Ed will provide supplies and materials for meetings as needed.
With everyone working together toward the same outcome, the data has started to trend in the right direction for Oliver. Last school year, 53% of Oliver’s students had significant levels of absences while 47% had satisfactory attendance. Through January of 2017, 57% of Oliver’s students now have satisfactory attendance, and 43% have significant levels of absences. Now there are 11% of students classified as “chronically absent” compared to 16% last year; and 30% of students are considered “at-risk” versus 35% last year.
This is great news for Oliver Elementary, and even better news for students and their families. It’s a great example of how we can work together to tackle challenges and improve outcomes by aligning existing resources. Not every school has the same resources, but we can all learn from Bright Spots, such as Oliver, to invest our resources in strategies that work. This is what Bold Goals Education and collective impact are all about!