A focus on attendance at Berkeley High has paid off, but there’s more work to do and a new scheme hopes to reward students for staying in class
A focus on attendance at Berkeley High has paid off, but there’s more work to do and a new scheme hopes to reward students for staying in class

In an effort to build on a concerted campaign to keep students in class, Berkeley High is introducing an incentive scheme based on rewards that the school hopes will be donated by local businesses and members of the community.

“It’s about recognizing and rewarding the kids who are in class,” said Daniel Roose, Dean of Attendance at Berkeley High, who said the past two years have been spent focusing more on the students who skip school. “We have been addressing the needs of truants, getting them resources and setting consequences. Now we want to step up the game and introduce positive incentives.”

Starting next week, at the beginning of the school’s second semester, the high school will begin a fundraising push to collect attendance rewards. Roose said he is hoping to galvanize local businesses into contributing money or products and services as rewards for kids who have good attendance.

He intends to create two funds. The first will be for small rewards — a voucher for a movie ticket or bagel — that can be given to individual students who have improved their attendance record. “I’d like to be able to go up to a student in the corridor and shake their hand and give them a coupon for a free ice cream as a way of showing appreciation,” Roose said.

The second fund will be for larger donations towards one or two big rewards that could be put in a lottery. “Ideally, this prize would be worth several hundred dollars, or even several thousand dollars, in order to generate student interest and some media buzz,” said Roose.

Attendance has been under the spotlight at BHS for the past two years, and the effort has paid off. While in 2010 only about 90.7% of the students attended school regularly, the numbers have improved steadily since then (see chart). (The data is measured using unexcused absences which do not necessarily mean the student has missed an entire day of school. It can mean he or she just missed one period.)

However the most recent numbers suggest a steadying off of the numbers and Roose admits to being a little disappointed. He believes there are two reasons that the recent figures have not continued to show improvement. “There’s been an over-reliance on what worked last year,” he said. More of the same is not necessarily what is needed, he said.

Screen shot 2013-01-20 at 5.49.24 PMIn addition, Roose said that historically teachers had not always taken attendance as seriously as they should. The more accurate counting of absences over the past year or so has had an impact on the numbers, albeit it one the school hopes will be temporary.

“There has to be a shift in the culture for everyone — parents and teachers, as well as students,” adds Roose.

In previous years, Berkeley officials have estimated that the district loses about $100,000 a month when kids do not go to high school, and has lost as much as $2.4 million a year.

Roose said the new positive reinforcement plan is one that has been adopted at many school districts around the country. He even heard of a Florida school that gave a car as a grand prize in an attendance lottery. “We don’t expect that,” he said, “but we would love to have some big-ticket items.”

Read the letter Berkeley High is sending to local businesses asking for help with the scheme.

Donations from members of the community are also welcome. Donations, which are tax-deductible can be made by check to Berkeley Public Education Foundation, with a note on the memo line BUSD Attendance Incentive Fund/BHS. Contact Daniel Roose via email at or call 510.644.6929 if you would like to make a donation or have questions.

Berkeley High Principal talks about attendance scam [04.24.12]
Attendance fraud ring exposed at Berkeley High [04.18.12]
Truancy high but improving at Berkeley High School [12.13.12]

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...