CUSD named statewide model for school attendance work

By CUSD Insider staff

Keeping children in school and actively learning is a priority for all educators, and state education officials have recognized the Capistrano Unified School District for that effort.

In April, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond named Capistrano Unified a model district — one of six statewide — for its SARB practices (school attendance review board). This is the second year the district has been recognized for its SARB work, the last time was in 2017.

Being a model SARB district “shows that we are addressing attendance from all different angles,” said Jenna Perry, SARB coordinator and school counselor with CUSD’s Alternatives to Suspension (ATS) program.

According to a state news release, being a model SARB district means Capistrano Unified has been engaging in early invention strategies to tackle chronic absenteeism, truancy and suspensions; using school funds to invest and train staff on their cultural competencies, address mental health needs, and provide rapid and positive responses for disengaged students; and helping engage families to feel valued and connected to their school community.

“It was a team effort,” said Michael Beekman, the district’s executive director of safety and student services. “It’s nice to get that positive reinforcement.”

In a prepared statement, Thurmond said all six districts that are model SARBs “have overcome incredible challenges to student attendance created by the ongoing global pandemic by employing great attendance strategies. I commend these schools for utilizing creative strategies that have been highly successful in getting more students back to learning and on the path to success.”

To receive the honor, CUSD officials completed a comprehensive, data-filled application, and they only had about a month to do it. Many people were involved, from school secretaries to the cultural proficiency department.

Beekman credited Perry with “a lot of the heavy lifting.” CUSD uses a three-tiered approach, Beekman and Perry explained.

CUSD’s approach begins with strategies that apply to all students, such as pro-attendance reward systems, special assemblies, and poster campaigns. The second level involves more administration intervention and taking students in need aside. The third tier is the SARB process handling more serious cases, which can also involve finding help at the district or county level. Outside social service agencies may also get involved.

Perry said she appreciates Capistrano Unified’s approach because “the whole idea of the process is to be supportive of family. We’re not out there to get people in trouble with the law, to be punitive about it. Oftentimes with families there are other things we can assist with. That is the main heart of our system here.”

Capistrano Unified leaders will receive the recognition during the California Association of Supervisors of Child Welfare and Attendance conference in May in Olympic Valley. CUSD is also planning a local celebration.

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