A new school year should be marked by energy, curiosity, and an enthusiasm for learning. But in order to hit the ground running, students need to be in their seats from day one. Two CPS principals managed to get nearly 100 percent of their classrooms filled during the first week of school, setting the stage for a productive year.
Marconi Elementary and Clark Elementary were the 2012 winners of the Target “attendance challenge” - a program which provided financial incentives to schools with higher than average truancy rates. This initiative, which was part of CPS’ aggressive Back to School campaign, targeted schools in seven key communities, encouraging a commitment to first day and every day attendance.
Marconi Community Academy (Track R), located in Garfield Park, and G.R. Clark Elementary (Track E), which is home to students in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, both achieved over 99 percent attendance during their first week of school, thus their principals were invited to the November school board meeting as special guests of CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
Neither principal was told ahead of time that her school had won the attendance challenge, thus both were surprised and pleased to be handed $1,500 gift cards courtesy of Target, a longtime supporter of CPS.
“I was speechless,” said Carolyn Epps, principal of Marconi. “And I’m not a quiet person.”
Marconi serves 235 students from grades Pre K-8, and Principal Epps attributes the school’s exceptional attendance numbers to her staff’s outreach this past summer.
“We made a lot of home visits, and hosted a big back-to-school picnic in August,” she said. “Anything to make sure our kids knew when school started.”
Marconi also gave every kindergartener who attended school on the first day a free uniform shirt, which is exactly the sort of attendance incentive program that will be expanded using the Target funds.
Natasha Buckner, a first-year principal at Clark Elementary, was also shocked by the events of the November board meeting.
“I was so surprised,” she said. “I had no idea we’d won. I kept racking my brain all week trying to figure out why I’d been asked to attend the board meeting.”
Principal Buckner calls her school’s attendance success a collective effort that stretches back to the summer.
“We had a big meet and greet in July,” she said. “Then, on the first day of school, we laid out our attendance expectations to the students. Two days later, we laid out the same expectations to their parents.”
Since the start of the school year, Clark has maintained over 95 percent attendance, and has also achieved 100 percent lunchroom compliance and nearly 100 percent medical compliance. But Principal Buckner insists that there is more to be done.
“Right now, we have 87 percent of our students meeting or exceeding state academic standards,” she said. “Our goal is to move that number to 90 percent.”
As to what the Target funds will be used for, Principal Buckner is leaving it largely up to the students.
“I’ve asked every student to complete an extended response writing assignment to tell me how they think we should spend the money,” she said, “because this is as much their success as it is ours.”
The Target gift cards can be used to purchase materials and supplies to be used by CPS staff as they work to prepare students for college and career readiness. This is just the latest contribution that Target has made to Chicago Public Schools education, donating more than $5 million in 2011 and funding such vital initiatives as the Target School Libraries Makeover program and the Target Field Trip Grants.