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City Heights Schools Look To Share Attendance Success

Evening Edition

Above: Getting kids to school everyday is important for their academic success and for schools’ bottom lines. But KPBS education reporter Kyla Calvert tells us nearly a third of elementary school students in City Heights missed at least 10 days of school last year.

Aired 2/7/14 on KPBS News.

Getting kids to school every day is important for their academic success and for schools’ bottom lines.

When a student came to Principal Derek Murichson’s office at Edison Elementary in City Heights and handed him a stack of papers last week, it was serious business. The papers were the classwork the student missed during three days his parents kept him home with a sick sibling.

“Because look at all this you missed, right?" Murchison said to the child. "I can’t add any more days to the end of the school year, can I?"

But there was a solution.

"I’m not mad at you, but we’ve got to make this up. Ok, buddy?" Murichosn said. "So you’re going to come to me at lunch time and I’m going to ask your mom, 'can you stay with me?', because I want you to be a good reader.”

Getting kids to school and getting them there on time is central to making sure teachers can do their jobs, Murchison said.

“When students are in school and teachers are able to work with them, achievement goes up because they’re able to meet their needs," he said. "They’re able to target their goals so when they’re here every single day they’re not missing out on the opportunity to learn.”

And Edison is doing a better job than other neighborhood schools making sure kids don't miss a lot of school. During the 2012-13 school year, 33 percent of students in other City Heights elementary schools missed at least nine days of school — or 5 percent of the school year. At Edison, 28 percent of students missed as much class. Murchison said that difference is thanks in part to the school's parents.

Since last spring, Edison dad Tommie Jackson has been cheering students on as they walk up to the school’s doors every morning. He looks like the kind of guy who’s comfortable hugging anyone he’s known for more than about five minutes. It seems simple, but Jackson said having a few smiling faces outside the school has been powerful.

“What it does it is helps the kids; the kids look forward to it," he said. "A lot of times you see the kids rushing down the sidewalk if they see us. A lot of times they’re pointing out to the parents ‘Mom, you made me late!’ So it’s a big thing out here to kind of create a family atmosphere and letting kids know ‘Hey, we’re looking for you to get here on time.”

Angelina Chavez isn’t as outgoing as Jackson. But she and a few other moms are out there with him most mornings holding a sign that asks other parents, “How can I help you get your child to school on time?”

“I want to motivate the parents, be here to help them in getting here and bringing the kids day after day so that they can be learning," Chavez said in Spanish. "Because when they miss one day, they lose the rhythm of learning and it’s beautiful to teach the kids to be responsible so that they’re growing and they can achieve and go to college.”

Principal Murchison said the percent of kids at school on an average day is above 96 percent this year. He thinks that's in part because the greeters have made families feel more responsible for each other.

“They’re going to their neighbor and making sure when they wake up, they’re telling their neighbors, 'hey, it’s time to get to school,'" he said. "The reality too, it’s a little bit of peer pressure, y’know, so that’s a good peer pressure that ‘hey if I can do it, you can do it and we can do it together.’”

But attendance isn't the only way Edison stands out in City Heights, test scores are higher than at other neighborhood schools.

Spreading that success around is the goal of the City Heights Partnership for Children, which has been working in the community for more than two years.

Neighborhood clusters of San Diego city schools have regular meetings for parents, teachers and administrators to address issues in the schools, but in City Heights, the partnership often facilitates these meetings. Getting parents more involved in improving attendance was a focus of one of those meetings recently.

Partnership Executive Director Tad Parzen said sharing best practices is key.

“Coming together, figuring out, unpacking what they do at Edison that’s so beautiful, repacking it in a way that’s customized for their school and then implementing it,” he said.

The partnership’s goals include improving readiness for kindergarten, third grade reading, eighth grade math and high school graduation in the neighborhood. Getting kids to school and getting them there on time is just one small step in that direction.

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