By Deborah Brancic, Pasadena Now Correspondent
Over four dozen volunteers arrived at the Pasadena High School (PHS) early Wednesday morning to kick off Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) Student Recovery Day, dubbed the “I’m In” campaign. Each group of volunteers received names and addresses for students who were previously enrolled in PUSD schools, in an effort to track down non-attending students and determine the cause.
“The purpose of this is not disciplinary, the purpose is to get kids in school and find out where they are,” said Jon R. Gundry, PUSD Superintendent. “The students we find today are not going to be disciplined. This is not about truancy, we want them to be successful.”
Volunteers included members of the community, PUSD elementary school principals, district center personnel, city hall staff, members of local non-profits, and a probation officer. A total of two hundred student names and addresses were distributed to volunteers throughout the day.
Rudy Ramirez, Principal of San Rafael Elementary School, was paired with Kelsey Garcia, a counseling intern at PHS and Eliot Middle School, for the first wave of student visits. The duo knocked on doors for over two hours, resulting in several incorrect addresses for families who had relocated, and one address that belonged to a local restaurant.
Ramirez said the main difficulty in determining whether a child is currently enrolled is outdated information. “Some of our parents change their numbers so often, if I have a kid with a scraped knee, I can’t reach them. Keeping our records updated is part of our major problem.”
“The reality is that we suspect most of these kids have moved out of the district,” said Gundry. “The next effort is to visit the last known address, we need to find out if they are still in the district and attending. In the elementary school cases it is likely that they are attending somewhere else, it is mostly a communication issue. Most students drop out in 9th grade, that is where we lose most of them.”
One difficulty in maintaining an accurate database of students is the amount of time it takes for some schools to call and request student records, according to Gundry.
“That doesn’t always happen in a timely manner,” he said. “There are some communication issues between districts and charter schools, this is not just a local issue, it is a state issue.”
The Student Recovery outreach is a new program to help update the database of students who, for one reason or another, are not continuously enrolled at their former schools.
“We’ve been planning this for the past several months,” said Eric J. Sahakian, PUSD Director of Child Welfare, Attendance and Safety. “This is our first full-scale attempt. Through child welfare we reached out by home calls to find out about attendance.”
Sahakian said the main reason for the recovery effort was to decipher why the students were not attending, and if necessary to help them find a program that speaks to their needs.
“The expected matriculation of students is the list that we go by, hopefully there will be a time when the collective effort will resonate with the community and it will be a community effort with no student recovery needed,” he said.
One PHS senior with near-perfect attendance said she saw education as the foundation to pursue her goals.
“I feel like school is such a safe environment, and there are so many opportunities that I don’t know why someone would skip school and jeopardize their future,” said Savannah Woods, 17. “If there is a will then there is a way, and I feel that school is the way.”
Woods is highly involved in the community, and is president of the Leo Club at PHS, a community service club that raises money for local charities. She said she believed finding and recovering students who were currently not attending school was an admirable effort, and a good way to help them get back on track.
PUSD currently has a dropout rate of 13.1%, according to Sahakian, which is only slightly lower than the state dropout rate of 13.2%. California’s compulsory education laws require children between the ages of six and eighteen to attend school, with limited exceptions, and provide for penalties if parents are found to be in violation of these laws. In addition, the school district receives funding based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA).
“If we increase attendance by 1%, that would increase the district budget by about $880,000,” said Adam Wolfson, PUSD Director of Communications & Community Engagement. “That affects budget, it could affect teacher salaries. If a student does not attend, we lose the money that is allocated for the student for that day.”