Journal of Housing & Community Development

Award of Excellence: Attendance Matters

December 16, 2019

The Sarasota Housing Authority (SHA) wins a 2018 Award of Excellence in Resident and Client Services for the Attendance Matters program, which focused on reducing and eliminating chronic absenteeism for their residents’ children. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.  

Research shows that children who experience chronic school absence (defined as missing 10 percent of the school year) during their early grades score lower on reading assessments in the third grade and poor school attendance can also be an early warning for social, economic and health issues. The Sarasota Housing Authority (SHA) partnered with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading to create the Attendance Matters program to reduce and eliminate chronic absenteeism amongst their younger residents.  

SHA met with the local school district and forged an agreement detailing how the district would share SHA residents’ attendance data, grades, and assessment scores with the housing authority. After receiving signed waivers from the parents, SHA began using this data to engage with the children and their parents at the school level to intervene in their chronic absenteeism.  

Once they knew which students to work with, SHA was able to implement their plan. The housing authority considers itself “a partner with the school and the family, with a shared goal of seeing the student succeed.” SHA regularly communicates with Alta Vista Elementary School and receives weekly updates on which residents have issues with attendance. Once the attendance report is reviewed, SHA’s youth coordinator may go directly to the family to advise them on the importance of regular school attendance; in some cases, SHA CEO William O. Russell III and other housing authority leadership also communicate with the family.  As some school officials have said, SHA “can reach families in a way they can’t.” SHA staff members also join senior school personnel at school meetings with the student and their guardians. 

Intervention by SHA and key school personnel has been correlated with a 25 percent reduction in student absenteeism. These students have also improved their grades and have regularly attended the SHA Saturday Reading program. Students who have started to regularly attend class have also seen improvement in their state standardized test scores and have also begun to participate in SHA’s Learning Center Afterschool Tutoring Homework Help program.  

SHA remains committed to giving their smallest residents the opportunity to succeed in school. Housing authority staff members continue to attend conferences and review information from Attendance Works and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading to consistently improve their efforts to eliminate school absenteeism. Mr. Russell has spoken on NAHRO panels about SHA’s work combating chronic absenteeism and shared tips on how other agencies can successfully replicate the program. SHA has also been nationally recognized by HUD and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading for their work on attendance. But of course, the biggest markers of success are the reduced school absenteeism and the students’ increased opportunity for success. 

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November/December 2019

n 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a regulation requiring public housing authorities (PHAs)…