GRPS Featured as a Portrait of Change
Persistence, partnership and clear messaging help reduce chronic absence district-wide in an urban district.
Educators and community leaders in Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second-largest city, knew they had to act after discovering that 36 percent of their nearly 17,000 public school students missed almost a month of school every year. Determined to reduce absences
for all students (the district’s diverse population represents 55 countries), they focused on scrutinizing pertinent data and providing support to students facing major barriers to getting to school – and the
students’ families. The startling result: Chronic absence dropped from 36 to 27 percent during the effort’s first two years, as this description and video detail. Grand Rapids has been persistent. When gains in attendance and achievement did not materialize after the effort’s first year, the district and its partners kept meeting and fine-tuning strategies. Professional development was intensified to help principals set attendance goals, use data to identify students in need of support, provide attendance incentives and promote messaging. A more concrete attendance message to the community was developed (known as Challenge 5) that urges students to miss fewer than five days of school each year. A community-wide approach is “the secret” to the district’s success, says Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal. This includes partnering with the Believe 2 Become initiative as well as a broader, regional initiative led by the Kent School Services Network involving community schools in nine school districts across the county. With Grand Rapids’ chronic absence most recently at 21 percent, the work continues.
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