Spreading the Word Statewide to Solve Chronic Absenteeism in Schools

The importance of school attendance can’t be overstated. It’s a key factor connected to how well children can learn to read and become healthy, thriving adults.Therefore, solving chronic absenteeism in Central Alabama schools has become a major focus of Bold Goals Education, an arm of the Bold Goals Coalition. In the past year and a half, we’ve made significant strides by collecting data, convening educators, starting conversations, sharing ideas and developing a platform for action across school systems in our region. And last week, we took what we’ve learned statewide.

L to R: Melissa Niven and Melissa Shields with Shardé Oliver of Bold Goals Education.

Bold Goals Education led a session specifically addressing chronic absenteeism at the annual MEGA Conference in Mobile. Hosted by the Alabama State Department of Education, MEGA is a week-long conference that provides attendees with opportunities to engage in meaningful discussions, participate in in-depth training sessions and learn from leading experts in fields across the education spectrum.

The room was filled with school counselors, principals, teachers and administrators. Melissa Niven, Program Administrator of the Jefferson County Helping Families Initiative, and Melissa Shields, Regional Support Coordinator for the Alabama State Department of Education, shared successful tools and strategies for implementing a three-tiered approach to addressing chronic absenteeism. The interest level was high and the feedback received from this session was overwhelmingly positive! One participant said via social media that it was “Hands-down the BEST session at MEGA.” Because of the information she acquired, she said, “We are ready to form our plan with these awesome resources.”

We know this approach works because we’ve been implementing it in partnership with schools across three different systems our five-county area. Working together as a professional learning community, most schools reduced their rates of chronic absenteeism by seven percentage points or more within about 60 days. Others have seen even far greater results. And the effects of improved attendance on students can be life changing. We know, for example, that chronic absenteeism is a major barrier to achieving reading proficiency by third grade. By improving attendance, we expect to change that.

This is what the Bold Goals Attendance Action Network is all about: helping school systems cultivate a school-wide culture of attendance and reduce the rate of chronic absenteeism across Central Alabama. Participants from this session at the MEGA Conference left with practical tools, and were empowered to use attendance data to determine the need for additional student and family support. They left ready to develop school staff capacity to adopt best practices and advocate for resources and policies to improve attendance. We are excited to see the results that will take place in our region…and now throughout the state!

The Bold Goals Coalition is 200 organizations solving big community problems by aligning partners, resources and agencies.