FRESNO, California (KSEE) – Educators say when a student misses at least 10% of the school year, they fall behind and it’s hard to catch up. That’s why school districts make attendance a top priority.

In Kathi Kauk’s first grade class, the seats are all full because for students to learn they must be present.

“Attendance is extremely important,” said Principal Rick McCullum. “We see our students that are here on a regular basis we see them grow and they progress through our grade levels.”

At Thomas Law Reed School in the Kings Canyon Unified School District, attendance is important.

“When a student is not here and not able to get that daily instruction, that daily support from our staff, we see them fall behind.”

Four years ago the district saw its chronic absenteeism rate at 6.3%: that’s defined as when a student misses 10% or more of the school year. Educators say that’s when they begin to fall behind.

“If you are chronicly absent in preschool and kindergarten you are less likely to be reading by the end of 3rd grade,” said Hedy Chang, Executive Director of Attendance Works. “If you are chronically absent in middle school you are less likely to pass your middle school classes.”

When Thomas Law Reed School saw its numbers inch up, the school developed a strategic plan to fight it – focused on the parent and child

Students with attendance problems are paired with a counselor who works to address the reasons the child is missing school. They are also building a relationship with the student.

“They want to connect with the student because when a student feels a stronger relationship it’s sort of like mentoring they are mentoring the student,” said Kings Canyon Unified Attendance Liasion Leti White.

Leti is part of the attendance team that uses data to address chronic absenteeism. Much of the focus is on the parent.

“If a parent shows their child school is important, school will be important to the child.”

The school does what it can to help working parents by opening its library at 7 a.m. for students and providing breakfast. This district-wide effort has seen King Canyon’s chronic absenteeism rate drop from 6.3% to 5%.

The Office of the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools is partnering with Attendance Works to address chronic absenteeism in rural schools.