Forget about a case of the Mondays.
A recent report by Glendale Unified School District staff members identified high school seniors as missing classes on Fridays and as the calendar neared graduation.
District staff identified 261 senior students out of 1,978 total districtwide last school year as “chronically absent,” meaning they missed 10% of classes or more at a board meeting earlier this month.
The senior class was the grade level that recorded the most absences in 2018-19, while transitional kindergarten and kindergarten claimed second with 246 students absences during the same year.
In total, district seniors were absent or truant 40,469 times last year. A truancy, according to Stepan Mekhitarian, an assessment and accountability coordinator for the district, is “an absence that is completely unaccounted for.”
“It is incredibly important for us to continue to discuss attendance and the importance of attendance,” GUSD Supt. Vivian Ekchian said.
She added, “Attendance also means [state funding]. Attendance means engagement.”
According to Stephen Dickinson, the district’s chief business and financial officer, each respective high school loses $55 of funding per absence per day.
Of the 40,469 missed school days, 28% took place on Fridays, while Thursday was No. 2 at 20%.
“Fridays are very chronic days that students are absent, whether it’s an excused absent by a parent calling in indicating they are going to be out, whether it’s an illness with or without a doctor’s note [or] whether it’s another [reason],” said Ilin Magran, the district’s assistant director of student support services.
Absences also increased as the year progressed for seniors, with 19% of all days missed taking place in May, while April was next with 13%, March was at 11% and February was at 10%. Double-digit absences were not recorded in any other school months.
“The instructional time that was lost, particularly in the second semester, can have a very devastating impact on both academic achievement and socio-emotional growth,” Mekhitarian said.
Mekhitarian and Magran laid out steps created by district staff to approve attendance, including consulting with principals and student advisory councils, setting special events on high absenteeism days, establishing attendance awards and increasing wellness checks.
Board member Nayiri Nahabedian asked whether chronically absent students were also struggling academically.
Magran replied that students who don’t believe they can graduate often stop attending.
Board member Greg Krikorian pushed back, pointing out that in at least a few instances high-performing students were chronically missing days.
“It goes back to valedictorians speaking at the day of commencements,” he said. “A couple of them... they were absent over a couple 100 times...they skipped class. These were kids getting into Ivy League schools and were setting a precedent.”
Krikorian also said he was not afraid to ask why only students were singled out and not teachers who take days off and create an environment where students skip classes to avoid substitutes.
“It’s our obligation too to study substitute teaching on these days,” he said. “I’m curious too and this goes back to us of looking at both sides of things.”
Board vice president Armina Gharpetian said providing students with enjoyable experiences is key to increasing attendance.
“The schools sites have to come up with fun ideas on Fridays,” she said, referring to Glendale High’s recent Senior Sunrise event, for which 12th-graders arrived on campus to watch the sunrise.
“My daughter said, ‘Oh my God, a lot of people came at 6 o’clock in the morning,’” Gharpetian said. “They were at school before 6 o’clock to watch the sunrise. That tells you kids are looking for some fun things to do.”