Message from the Directors
Welcome to the new National Center for School Engagement! We have been dedicated to the mission of developing more supportive school environments, helping families feel involved in their children’s schools, and ensuring students feel a stronger sense of belonging and commitment to learning for many years. Terri has had a long career serving schools in many capacities – as teacher, special education coordinator, attendance program director, and vice principal. Jodi helped launch NCSE in 2004. We are proud to announce that now, for the first time, NCSE is not a center within a larger organization but an independent entity!
Much has changed since 2004. Back then, Dr. Ken Seeley was President of the Colorado Foundation for Families and Children and was spearheading the establishment of NCSE; Judith Martinez (now Director of Dropout Prevention and Student Reengagement with CDE), was our first director; and our team had evaluated OJJDP’s Truancy Reduction Demonstration Program and helped the US DOE and DOJ organize the conference Partnering to Prevent Truancy: A National Priority. Terri was running Project Respect, a highly successful attendance improvement program in her Colorado school district. Truancy as a predictor of high school dropout and other difficulties, long acknowledged in the teaching arena by people like Terri, had just caught the attention of the research community, in large part thanks to Dr. Seeley’s work. Schools seeking to improve attendance were going it pretty much on their own, without a research base or a national network of similarly committed professionals. Younger students’ absences were often ignored, and the standard method of dealing with older students’ unexcused absences was suspension. Schools did not report excused versus unexcused absence or the number of students meeting the legal definition of truancy. In fact, not all states even had a legal definition of truancy. Yet, once attendance caught the public eye, we began to receive regular media queries asking for the impossible-to-tabulate “national truancy rate.” The public cared then and still does now.
Things have improved! Published research on truancy and methods of improving attendance abounds. There is growing understanding that supportive responses to truancy are more effective than suspension. State departments of education and large school districts have begun to open “student reengagement” offices to support students showing signs of academic drift. Schools must report unexcused absence and truancy data to state departments of education. We have a host of colleagues in universities and non-profits working toward the same goals. Bullying is no longer shrugged off as inevitable or “kids being kids.” And the No Child Left Behind Act focused attention on the achievement gap, which has begun to narrow. As a result of all these efforts, the nationwide four-year high school graduation rate increased from 75% in 2004-05 to 82% in 2012-13.
We at NCSE remain committed to doing our best to continue these positive trajectories – to supporting our schools, communities, researchers and policy makers as we jointly work through the challenges that persist and those on the horizon. We remain committed to pressing and supporting the educational community to address the emotional growth of our youth, recognizing it as the fertile soil in which the seeds of cognition take root. We remain committed to spreading the use of restorative practices and trauma informed approaches that keep pace with research in brain science. With our new administration, the policy ground is shifting beneath our feet, but we must not be dissuaded from our laser focus on closing achievement gaps and eliminating stark inequalities in the application of punitive responses to behavioral incidents. Much has been accomplished, but many challenges remain, and our never-static social and economic environments promise new ones will arise. We hope you will find that we at NCSE continue to provide helpful suggestions and thought-provoking ideas. You will be able to follow those ideas on our website, our Facebook page, and our blog (coming soon), and we hope you will share your insights with us in our blog forum. To you, we wish success, and to our youth we wish the understanding that good fortune is grounded in hard work, thoughtful decisions and generosity of spirit.
Jodi Heilbrunn and Terri Martinez-McGraw, Co-Directors, NCSE