Family Partnership Council Meeting 3.9.23(FRANKFORT, KY) – The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) Family Partnership Council discussed initiatives to support student attendance and recommendations to KDE at the council’s March 19 meeting.

Florence Chang, an educational program consultant in the KDE Division of Student Success, spoke about the impact chronic absenteeism is having across the state and nationally.

“Students are chronically absent if they present 90% or less of full-time equivalency,” she said. “You are considered chronically absent if you are missing more than 10% of the school year.”

Chang said pre-pandemic data shows that one in every six students is chronically absent; a number that she said has nearly doubled to about one in three students post-pandemic.

“Chronic absenteeism at any age is connected to academic outcomes, even as young as preschool and kindergarten,” said Chang. “Chronically absent preschool and kindergarten students are academically and developmentally lagging behind their peers.”

Chang said the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences released a report summary that showed students are seven times more likely to drop out of school if they are chronically absent even just one year between 8th and 12th grade.

Barriers like health conditions, transportation issues, aversion, disengagement and misconceptions, she said, are just some of the reasons behind chronic absenteeism.

“There are a lot of different reasons why kids are missing, and this presents a lot of challenges for our teachers,” she said.

Chang said educators have reported having to overcome difficulties like building relationships with chronically absent students.

“We know that building relationships is one of the key aspects of creating school connectedness for students and families,” she said. “So having those strong relationships is very challenging if students are not in the building or face to face.”

In addition to building relationships, educators have mentioned challenges with instruction continuity and having effective instructional approaches to lessons with students who are chronically absent.

“We know with initiatives like United We Learn that a lot of innovation is happening in education and the most exciting things that kids get are when it is hands-on and relevant project-based learning,” said Chang.

KDE has been working on strategies for schools and districts to help decrease chronic absenteeism across the state, she said. Some of those changes include fostering a welcoming and supportive culture for students and adults, ensuring academically engaging and challenging environments, and finding ways to engage families and community either through creative attendance campaigns or data tracking.

“Creating a sense of belonging is the first piece to all of this,” said Chang. “Then communicating with the families about getting the attendance issue to the forefront with letting them know that it only takes two days a month to impact the learning.”

She said creating this positive relationship with the families and communities has shown in other states to be one of the keys to creating a reversal in this increase.

“Finding ways to talk about attendance in a supportive way versus taking a punitive approach is important because we all have stressors in our lives and trying to help the families work through whatever those challenges may be is more effective in getting kids to attend school,” said Chang.

Laura Beard, a council member who represents the Prichard Committee, said in response that she found parents have had difficulties finding the attendance policy and would like those discussions and policies to be more forward-facing.

“Parents have told me that they just need to know where to find the information,” said Beard. “They’re looking for more communications from their schools so anything that we can do to improve that communication would be helpful for some families.”

Rhonda Logsdon, representing Kentucky Special Parents Involvement Network for the council, agreed with the importance of keeping students engaged and interested in their schoolwork.

“We are raising them because we want them to be strong and self-advocates. We want them to strive for more,” said Logsdon. “I think we can help with that; our group is here to help with that because it is going to take every one of us.”

Chang agreed with Logsdon and said this topic will require everyone in the community, families and staff within the schools to work together.

“There is not going to be one solution,” said Chang. “This is multifaceted and needs that personal touch for this to change.”

Overview and update to the Family Partnership Council’s Recommendations to KDE

Marsha VanHook, the full-service community school’s manager for KDE and council chair, spoke to the members about the council’s four recommendations to KDE and provided an overview of the council’s intentions.

The four recommendations are:

  • Encourage districts and schools to develop local webpages that include more robust relationship-building and communication metrics regarding meaningful family and community engagement.
  • KDE hires a full-time, full-service community school’s manager which is fully funded by the Prichard Committee through December 2027.
  • In 2024, the Family Partnership Council will make recommendations to local educational agencies (LEAs) and other state organizations on one or more tools that will support families in navigating educational options and rights within Kentucky’s educational system. In 2025, the Family Partnership Council will partner with KDE and other organizations to create an online, age-indexed, family-friendly guide that shares the most effective ways for schools to partner with families.
  • The Family Partnership Council’s work in 2024-2026 is to assist in the implementation of the three goals above and, most importantly, support many more schools’ adoption of the Kentucky Family and School Partnerships Guide.

The council serves in an advisory role to the KDE and provides input regarding topics of interest to families, such as ways that families and communities can assist schools in ensuring that the achievement level of all students is increased.

“Part of the work we have been engaging in recently is how do we set up a story card for those districts and schools to tell their story of how they are improving their outcomes for students with the community members, family engagement and sharing these success stories,” said VanHook.

These recommendations are meant to support every school’s effort to form effective partnerships, promote greater alignment of KDE and outside organizations’ family partnership initiatives, and set the goals of the FPC for the next two years.

VanHook emphasized that each community is unique in its ways and said if you’ve seen one community school, you’ve only seen one.

“You have to get to each of those root causes of what is going on in that community or with that particular school community to help you design some effective interventions,” said VanHook. “It’s important to know your families and have a place for their voices to come forward and help solve these problems together.”

The next Family Partnership Council meeting will be on June 18.