Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Importance of School Attendance

Today, I'm writing to you about an issue our elementary schools are focusing on this year - the issue of Chronic Absenteeism.  What is Chronic Absenteeism?  Chronic absenteeism is missing more than 16 days of school in any given school year, excused or unexcused.  Our hope is that by focusing on this issue early, and working to try to reduce chronic absenteeism among our youngest students, we can create healthy habits of school attendance and reduce larger potential issues later on in a child's educational career.   
It is hard to argue that in order for students to learn in school, they have to be regularly present.  Chronic Absenteeism is a serious concern that affects K-12 schools and districts all across the country.  Gorham is no different.  Not only do repeated school absences (excused or unexcused) cause students to lag behind in their learning pathways and reduce student success rates in their classes, it also increases the propensity to do poorly on classroom and/or state and national assessments.  Chronic absenteeism is also linked to increased failure rates for students, and if left unchecked, it is one of the key indicators of students dropping out of school altogether.

According to 2014-15 attendance data, 5.2% of our K-5 students were chronically absent here in Gorham.  That means that almost 65 students were chronically absent from school and at risk to potentially experience the negative impacts outlined above.

 Did you know??? . . .

*  In a nationally representative data set, chronic absence in kindergarten is associated with lower academic performance in first grade.  The impact is TWICE as much for students from low-income families.  (Chang and Romero 2008)

*  Children from low-income families who were also chronically absent in kindergarten had the lowest levels of achievement in fifth grade (Chang and Romero 2008)

*  Compared to children with average attendance, chronically absent students gained 14 percent fewer literacy skills in kindergarten, and 15 percent fewer literacy skills and 12 percent fewer mathematics skills in first grade, based on analysis of a nationally representative data set (Ready 2010)

*  Children from low-income families with good attendance also gained more literacy skills than peers from higher-income families during kindergarten and first grade (Ready 2010).

*  Students who were chronically absent in both pre-k and kindergarten often continued to be chronically absent in later years, and are more likely to be retained and have lower achievement (Connolly and Olson 2012).

*  A study of New York City data finds that “While relative improvements or declines in students’ test scores are predictive of students’ progress towards graduation, changes in attendance during the middle grades are also equally, if not more, predictive of the likelihood that students will be on-track in ninth grade to graduate from high school within four years” (Kieffer, Marinell, and Stephenson, 2011).

*  Analyses of data from Chicago show that course performance in the ninth grade was the strongest predictor of the likelihood that students would graduate, and the school attendance was by far the strongest predictor of course performance. The study found that even moderate amounts of absenteeism had strong impacts.  Students with high test scores who missed two or more weeks of school per semester were more likely to fail than students with low test scores who missed a week or less of school (Allensworth & Easton 2007).

*  Analyses of data from multiple states and school districts, many conducted in partnership between the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University and the National Governors Association, have consistently found chronic absenteeism to be among the strongest predictor of dropping out of high school, stronger even than suspensions, test scores, and being overage for grade, after having controlled for student demographics and backgrounds (Byrnes & Reyna 2012).

(Note, these data were taken from a Literature review conducted by John Hopkins University entitled:  "The Importance of Being In School:  A Report on Absenteeism In the Nation's Public Schools" published in May, 2012)

Now, you might have read all of this, and thought to yourself:  "Ya, but my child isn't chronically absent!  He/she might miss a day or two here and there - but that's not chronic." But then you should think to yourself how easy it is to miss 16 days of school in a school year.  What if you child has a bout of flu in October, and your child is out for 4 days, then a family vacation in the off-season (cheaper air fair is great) and your child misses another 7 days, then a sore throat (1 day), then an upset stomach and fever(2 days) and then an extended weekend to visit the family in Vermont(2 days) and - there you are - your child is now chronically absent from school!  Didn't take too much did it?

How about some more facts about the impacts of Chronic Absenteeism. . . 

*  In the early grades, students who are chronically absent have lower reading and math scores as well as weaker social-emotional skills that they need to persist in school.

*  Only 17 percent of students who were chronically absent in both kindergarten and 1st grade were reading proficiently by 3rd grade, compared with 64 percent of those with good attendance in the early years.

*  Chronic absenteeism in the middle school is the #1 indicator of a potential drop out student later in high school, above achievement, above race, and above socio-economic indicators.

(Note, these data were taken from an article in Education Week, published Oct. 7, 2014 entitled:  "Chronic Absenteeism Can Devastate K-12 Learning") 

Clearly, missing school, for whatever reason, has potentially negative consequences for children.  Now, you might be saying to yourself:   "But this isn't an issue at my school!"  And I wish I could agree. .. but I can't.  It is an issue in all schools within Gorham.  In 2015, 24 students at Village School met the designation of Chronically absent, 16 students at Narragansett, and 22 students at Great Falls.  Again, this doesn't sound like many students, but when you remember the potential negative repercussions outlined above, it is clear that this is too many. 

It is our hope that now that you have read this data you either have a refreshed and reenergized understanding of the importance of children attending school regularly, or your eyes are now open to this important topic in a way they may not have been already. Together, we can solve this problem for our children here in Gorham.  

Please know that the school system understands that this isn't all "on you" as parent/guardians.  Oh no, we have a part to play in this work moving forward as well.  Our part is to continue to do what we can to make our schools places where students want to be, where they want to come and learn.  We need to continue to offer engaging programming for all our students, to maintain positive school climates where all students feel safe, and to communicate with our partners in this work - all of you as parent/guardians. 

As a means to improve this communication piece, we have developed an attendance communication protocol to be used across all of our K-5 schools.  This protocol includes asking teachers to reach out to parent/guardians of any student who has been absent between 4-5 days to simply touch base and establish a supportive connection with parents.  If a student accumulates between 6-10 absences, an Attendance Oversight Committee (comprised of school staff) will reach out to parents to emphasize the importance of attendance, to understand the reasons for the absences, and to brainstorm together ways to improve attendance (if necessary).  If a student accumulates between 11-15 absences, the Attendance Oversight Committee will reach out to parent/guardians to determine if an Individualized Attendence Plan (IAP) is necessary, and if so - to work with parents to develop an IAP for the student. Finally, if a student accumulates 16+ absences, the Attendance Oversight Committee will reach out once again to revise the IAP as necessary.  All of this work is intended to be done in partnership with parents in a supportive and caring manner with the ultimate goal of improving attendance for all children at the forefront.

So now, you may ask yourself:  "As a parent/guardian, how can I contribute to this work to improve attendance at our schools?"  Well, I thought you'd never ask! :)  Here are just a few ideas, but feel free to think creatively and formulate your own:

1.  Make getting students to school on time every day a top priority.  In a world of many priorities, this may sound easy - but we know it is not.

2.  Work with your child to set an attendance goal per month and if they work hard and meet it, celebrate it! 

3.  Set out a regular bedtime and morning routine. 

4.  Lay out clothes and pack backpacks the night before so that in the morning all they have to do is get up and go! 

5.  Avoid extended family trips when school is in session.

6.  Last, but definitely not least - Communicate with the school and greater community agencies about barriers that keep kids from getting to school.  Is an issue bullying?  Is an issue transportation?  Is an issue a lack of day care?  The more we know what the specific problems are, the more equipped we are to find solutions together.

I hope you have found this piece informative.  If you want to learn more about the impacts of Chronic Absenteeism on children you can find additional resources by clicking on the following link: ( .  

Together, this is a problem WE CAN ADDRESS!  

Thank you, 

Heather J. Perry,

Superintendent of Schools



Superintendent's Goals for 2015-16

I just wanted to be sure to share my goals with all of you!  If anyone has any questions, please feel free to reach out.  You can comment on this post, you can email me ( or you can call me (222-1012).  THANK YOU!

Gorham School Department
Superintendent’s Annual Goals

Goal #1 – To strengthen the Gorham Schools overall district mission/vision and core documents by completing a school and community wide “re-visioning” process involving all appropriate stakeholders.

(NE) Deals with:  Vision/Mission, Climate Culture, Organizational Management, Human Resource Management, School Committee Relations, and Educational Leadership

I have completed 101 interviews thus far with various school administrators, school staff, parents, and community members as part of my entry plan with the goal of completing 120 such interviews by the end of September.  Throughout these conversations about perceived “strengths” and “areas of challenge” one theme that has emerged is the need to strengthen and re-invigorate the great work that was done here in Gorham about 5 years ago when we last updated our Mission/Vision and Core Beliefs documents as a school system.

In many interviews individuals acknowledged that they didn’t have a strong sense for what our K-12 district vision was and what role they would need to play in making it a reality for our children.  Many individuals spoke of having strong school visions, but they weren’t sure if those connected to the district’s or not.  Many individuals also talked about feeling as though each school was beginning to re-form the “silos” that had existed before the last visioning process was conducted and they didn’t want to see that happen again.

As a new incoming Superintendent, it is clear to me that these original documents (created in 2010) were well thought out and have served our district well.  However, it is also clear to me that these documents are no longer “alive” and that because of this lack of a strong, transparent and well-known K-12 vision we are not maximizing our efforts and instead are being pulled in too many directions at once without an ability to prioritize the work and align it with our vision.  Additionally, these previous vision documents were created prior to our Proficiency Based Learning (PBL) work and we need to include our PBL vision within a re-visioning process.

The process I am suggesting would NOT throw out the old documents and start from scratch.  Instead, the process I would like to facilitate would merely involve a “re-visioning” process that would use our already existing mission/vision and core documents as the foundation of our work.  We could then build on and “revive” these core documents through discussion and “tweaking” to meet the current demands being placed upon our school system.  This process would involve all stakeholders (School Committee, School Leadership, Staff, Parents, Students, and Community members) and would culminate in the creation of a revived School Vision, School Mission, and Core Belief documents.  These documents could then be used to later create a comprehensive Strategic Plan that will help to guide our work moving forward and allow us to focus and prioritize our efforts and to align our entire organization to these well-articulated beliefs and practices.

Planned Action Steps
Draft Timeline
Anticipated “Deliverables”
*  Discuss with School Committee and gain approval of the overall process.

By End of September, 2015
*  School Committee Vote to approve of re-visioning process.
*  Hire Consultant/Facilitator to assist Superintendent in the re-visioning process.
By October, 2015
*  Approved Contract for services
*  Create Stakeholder Design Team to include the following approximate membership:

Proposed Team (16):
-  SC members (1)
-  District Level Leadership (1)
-  School Level Leadership (2)
-  Teachers (1 from each building)(5)
-  Students (2)
-Parents (one from each grade level (3)
-Community Members (2)

(I might suggest we “re-purpose” our District PBL team to create this group)

By October, 2015
*  First meetings agendas and minutes
Steering Committee Designs strategies & tools for community engagement process, seeking stakeholder’s input on vision.
October – January, 2015
*  Meeting agendas, minutes; flyers, posters, surveys, meeting invitations, etc.
*  Conduct public forums and surveys to gather feedback that will be used by Design Team (DT)  to determine themes in the vision.
January–mid-March, 2016
*  Flyers, posters, meeting, invitations, agenda, survey responses, etc.
*  Design Team organizes data from stakeholders; invites 30-40 additional stakeholders to a 2-hour evening meeting to determine main themes/big ideas that should be in the vision.
April, 2016
Data summary, meeting agenda, identified themes, etc.
*  Vision Writing Group drafts a newly “re-visioned” Gorham Schools’ Mission and Vision Statement and core beliefs document utilizing data collected at public forums and via the community and staff design team process.
April, 2016
*  Draft  Mission/Vision and Core Beliefs Document.
*  Steering committee gathers feedback on draft from conference attendees, subset of staff & school committee (brief post period on web site for general public feedback)
Late April – early May.
Feedback results.
*  Steering committee makes final revisions to MVB based on feedback.
Mid-late May, 2016
Meeting agendas, minutes.
*  Final draft MVB document goes to School Committee for approval.
June, 2016
Final Approved Re-Visioned Gorham Schools Mission/Vision & Core Beliefs Document.

Goal #2 – To Be Visibly Present within the Schools and Community of Gorham.

(NE) Deals with:  Vision/Mission, Organizational Management, Human Resources Management, and Educational leadership.

The 101 Entry Plan interviews I have conducted thus far have helped me to create this goal as an area of emphasis and need within the Gorham School District.  A clear theme that has surfaced is that many individuals from both the school and community level suggested that they didn’t really see top school administration present a great deal within the schools and within the community.
Granted, this is often a theme in any Superintendent’s position I have ever held as the required work load of a Superintendent does not leave a lot of “free time” available to participate in as many events as one would like.  However, there is no more important component to leadership than simply “being present”, and if one doesn’t pay close attention to this as a goal, then it is often one of the easiest things to forget and accidently not do.  Therefore, I am making this increased visibility a priority for my first year here in Gorham.

Planned Action Steps
Draft Timeline
Anticipated “Deliverables”
*  Attend at least 1 home game for every sport in every season (Fall, winter, spring) at the HS level.
Throughout the year
Twitter/FB/Blog posts & 360 survey
*  Attend at least 1 home game for every sport in every season (Fall, winter, spring) at the MS level.
Throughout the year
Twitter/FB/Blog posts & 360 survey
*  Attend at least 1 away game during each season (Fall, Winter, Spring) for a sporting event of my choice.
Throughout the year
Twitter/FB/Blog posts & 360 survey
*  Attend Holiday Band Concerts for MS/HS level
November/December, 2015
Twitter/FB/Blog posts & 360 survey
*  Attend Parent Conference nights at Elementary Levels.
October, 2015
Twitter/FB/Blog posts & 360 survey
*  Attend the High School Musical in the spring
Spring, 2016
Twitter/FB/Blog posts & 360 survey
*  Attend at least 2 academic extra-curricular events (such as Odyssey of the Mind, Robotics, Civil Rights Team, etc) at Gorham High School
Throughout the year
Twitter/FB/Blog posts & 360 Survey
*Visit with the Lakes Region Senior Center and the Gorham House at least once during the year.
Throughout the year
Twitter/FB/Blog posts& 360 survey
*  Continue to participate and facilitate the Business Roundtable.
Throughout the year
Twitter/FB/Blog posts & 360 survey
*Attend/participate in at least one event from the Gorham Business Exchange.
Throughout the year
Twitter/FB/Blog posts & 360 survey
*Work to set aside Thursday mornings as “School visit” mornings so that I can visit each school at least once per month.
Throughout the year
Twitter/FB/Blog posts & 360 survey
*  Attend assorted school staff meetings, K-5 or 6-12 Cluster meetings, RTI meetings, etc. throughout the year.
Throughout the year
Twitter/FB/Blog posts & 360 survey

Goal #3 – To Continue to Move the Gorham Schools Towards the Creation of It’s PBL System of Education for Grades K-12.

(CF) Deals with:  Vision/Mission, Organizational Management, Human Resources Management, Educational leadership, and State Requirements of LD 1422.

The Gorham Schools have been working to create a Proficiency Based Learning System for several years now, even before the introduction of LD 1422 by the State of Maine, our Elementary Schools were aligned to and reporting out on Standards.  With the advent of the Common Core standards and LD 1422, we have had to spend the past several years re-aligning our K-5 work with these new standards and bringing our 6-12 Schools into alignment. 

Our newly created position of Assistant Superintendent in Charge of Curriculum and Instruction led this work over the course of the past year and was able to get the Gorham Schools to a point where we now have clear performance indicators and learning objectives for grades K-5, complete with assessments and scoring guides for ELA and Math.  In grades 6-12, we have identified our graduation standards and have worked to begin creating Performance Indicators, Learning objectives and aligned scoring criteria across all content areas.  Additionally, we have created a district wide PBL committee whose charge it is to assist in continuing to lead this work.   This is all good, but as you might imagine, there is still much work to be done.

The Assistant Superintendent will be leading this continued work on a day in and day out basis, however, I believe there are several overarching themes that need continued focus by the Superintendent of Schools in order to align this work to the re-visioning process described under goal #1 and to communicate this work effectively across all stakeholders (Staff, students, parents, and community).

Planned Action Steps
Draft Timeline
Anticipated “Deliverables”
*  Work with the Asst. Superintendent to create a detailed Action plan for specific PBL work to be completed by the district for the 2015-16 school year and to share this plan for feedback with the Leadership Team and the Gorham School Committee.
September, 2015
*Completed PBL Action Plan.
*  Hire Great Schools Partnership to work with the Assistant Superintendent to accomplish required work at the grades 6-12 level according to the detailed action plan.
August, 2015
*  GSP contract and work agreement.
*  Provide a monthly presentation to the School Committee updating the School Committee on our PBL work via the SC member on the District PBL Team and Asst. Superintendent.
October – June, 2016
*SC minutes
*Work with Assistant Superintendent to create
A comprehensive PBL Parent communications plan specifically geared towards assisting parents in understanding how our grading structures will work via JumpRope (focus on K-5 and grade 7 for 2015-16).
November ,2015
*  Completed Parent Communications Plan.
*Work with the Asst. Superintendent to create a tab on our website for a “PBL Informational Page” where a description of our PBL “vision” will be housed (once re-visioned) as well as any appropriate notes of meetings, curriculum outlines, graduation standards, policy development, etc.    This will allow the public to follow our work and increase transparency amongst all stakeholders.
December, 2015
*Update website with PBL informational page.

Goal #4– To Monitor and Assess the First Year Implementation of our new Teacher and Building Administrator Evaluation System.

(CF) Deals with:  Climate/Culture, Human Resources Management, Educational Leadership and State Mandate.

The 2015-16 School year will be the first full year implementation of our newly created Teacher and Building Administrator Evaluation Systems.  This first year implementation will be the culmination of almost three years worth of work.  We will be utilizing new standards (Danielson standards for Teachers and Marshall Standards for Principals/Program Directors) and new software systems that will require a great deal of training and learning in order for these to be effectively implemented across all schools K-12. 

We have devoted our full day workshop days to this work over the course of the coming school year.  It will be important to continually monitor and assess the effectiveness of the processes so that we can insure success.

Planned Action Steps
Draft Timeline
Anticipated “Deliverables”
* Work with Asst. Superintendent to upload all required standards and information into our “Reflect” software system.
August/September, 2015
*Completed spreadsheet.
*Conduct initial Admin. Training in use of  “Reflect”
August, 2015
*Training notes
*Collect from Admin. Lists of all staff to be evaluated and on what cycles and when.
September, 2015
*Completed spreadsheet
*  Conduct initial teacher mentor training in “Reflect”
September, 2015
*Training notes
*  Provide time for mentor teachers to train school staff in use of “Reflect”
October, 2015
*Oct. 9 Early release agendas/notes.
*  Bring the two separate steering committees together under one steering committee.
December, 2015
Agendas/Meeting notes
*  Oversee Completion of Admin. Training in “Focus” Phase I.
By end of January, 2016
*Report pulled from Focus.
*  Oversee Completion of Admin. Training in “Focus” Phase II.
By end of June, 2016
*Report pulled from Focus
*Create cyclical monitoring of progress via Cabinet and Council meetings to make sure timelines are being met and software system is being properly utilized.
September – June, 2016
*Cabinet/Council meeting agendas and notes.
* Check lists of all required evaluations to make sure they were completed.
May/June, 2016
*  Completed spreadsheet with “spot checks”.
*  Collect feedback from Administrators and staff to inform any necessary changes to the system for the 2016-17 School Year.
May/June, 2016
*Survey results/data.

Goal #5 – To Create and Implement a Needs-Based Budgeting approach for the creation of the FY 17 Gorham School Department Budget.

(NI) Deals with:  Vision/Mission, Organizational Management, Human Resources Management

The Gorham School Department’s annual budget is approximately $35,000,000.00.  Since 2008, the Gorham Schools (along with every other school system in the State of Maine) has struggled to balance the needs of providing our children with high quality educational programming with the ability of our taxpayers to fund those necessary programs.   As the State of Maine continues to decrease its commitments to fund public education the local burden to fund these necessary programs becomes even greater, stretching our already scarce resources.

During such times, it is important that school district budgets are built from the bottom up, making sure that every item being requested within the budget is necessary to meet the needs of our children and the mission/vision of our school system.  The development of a needs based budget ensures this process is thorough and transparent so that by the time the budget reaches our local taxpayers for approval, it is clear that what is being requested is needed and not just there because it was the year before.

The overall goal of a needs-based budgeting approach is to use the entire process of developing a budget as a communications tool so that the process is transparent, easily understood, and clear that every item requested is necessary and aligned to the fulfillment of our school’s mission/vision.

Planned Action Steps
Draft Timeline
Anticipated “Deliverables”
*  Draft budget development timeline and steps and communicate with School Committee to gain approval.
*  September, 2015
*Approved Budget Development Timeline
*  Train Principals and Program Directors regarding expectations and processes required.
*  October/November, 2015
*Cabinet/Council agendas and minutes
*  Joint “Dine and Discuss” meeting with School Committee and Leadership Team.
*  November, 2015
*  Prepared booklet information
*  Begin initial school/program budget process.
*  November/December, 2015
*  Template spreadsheets created and used as desired.
*  School/program budgets due to Finance Officer and Superintendent
*  December, 2015
*  Completed budgets
*  Individual meetings with each Principal/Program Director with Superintendent, Finance Officer, and Asst. Superintendent.
* December/January, 2016
*  Notes from meetings.
* Review of initial “status quo” and superintendent proposed budget with Leadership team.
*  January, 2016
*  Cabinet/Counsel meeting agendas and notes.
*  Finalized “Status quo” and superintendent proposed budget presented to Finance Committee.
*  February, 2016
*  completed status quo and superintendent’s proposed budgets.
*  Development of website Budget Development page and Blog posts used to inform community about key pieces of information.
February – June, 2016
*  completed web-page and blog posts.
* Finalized Finance Committee Budget presented to School Committee for workshops
*  March, 2016
*  completed FC proposed budget.
*  School Committee approves proposed FY 17 Budget.
*  April, 2016
*  Approved School Committee Proposed Budget.
*  Workshop and meetings with Town Council to approve FY 17 Budget
*  May, 2016
*  Approved Proposed FY 17 Budget.
Budget validation Referendum
*   June, 2016
*  Approved Proposed FY 17 Budget.

These five goals will be my priority goals for the 2015-16 School Year.

In addition to these priority goals, I also have several other “smaller goals” that are important in the following areas:

I.               Educational Program:

·      To continue to monitor, assess, and submit periodic updates on vertical team implementation at the Narragansett School. (CF)

·      To monitor, assess, and submit a report to the School Committee regarding fall implementation of Jump Start Program across all schools. (NE)

·      To continue to monitor, assess, and submit periodic updates on the new K-5 Alternative Education Program (NE).

II.             Budget/Finance:

·      To revise processes used to communicate monthly financials to the Finance Committee in order to increase transparency.  (NE)

III.           Personnel

·      To negotiate in collaboration with the School Committee a new GTA contract with teachers. (CF)

·      To monitor, assess, and make recommendations to the School Committee regarding the continuation of DARE program at our elementary schools and the overall focus of our School Resource Officers. (NE)

IV.            Facilities

·      To continue to work with the School Committee on addressing the Capital needs of all facilities across the district. (CF)

·      To work with the School Committee on further improvements to our security and safety systems across the district’s five schools. (CF)

All of this in addition to my “normal” duties of conducting monthly School Committee meetings and workshops, monthly leadership team meetings, overseeing a 35 million dollar budget, 2,600 + students, 370+ staff, working to increase collaborations within the community, and much much more!

I look forward to a GREAT YEAR here within the Gorham Schools!