Atlanta Hawks point guard and former Rainier Beach High star Jamal Crawford, former Garfield High and UW star Will Conroy, and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn (the short guy on the left) introduce the "Be Here, Get There" campaign.
I somewhat ridiculed Mayor Mike McGinn during the 2009 mayoral race for attempting to make school reform a campaign issue. "The schools issue is a losing one for McGinn," I insisted with my typical bluster and confidence. "He should be focusing on things he can actually do."
Well, yesterday Mayor McGinn set out to prove me wrong once again (winning was the first time), by launching the city's new "Be Here, Get There" campaign aimed at dramatically cutting truancy and improving attendance at Seattle's public schools.
Argue all you want about cause and effect, but the correlation between school attendance rates and graduation rates is huge and indisputable. On average 9th graders who miss between 16 and 25 school days go on to graduate at a rate of only 59 percent, compared to an 87 percent graduation rate for peers who miss five or fewer days. The correlation for unexcused absences is even stronger, with only 35 percent of 9th graders missing 21 to 25 unexcused days going on to graduate.
Improve attendance, improve graduation rates—or so the thinking goes. The modest goal is for 80 percent of students to miss fewer than 10 days of school a year, up from the 62 percent rate today.
To this end the mayor's office worked in collaboration with the district, the Alliance for Education, and Get Schooled, to develop an outreach and incentive program designed to create awareness among students and their families about how critical regular attendance is to the child's academic success, and to induce attendance through various prizes. At the elementary school level the classroom with the most improved attendance record will win a prize each month (like a Pagaliacci Pizza party), and the classroom's teacher will receive a Starbucks gift card. At the middle and high school level, all students with five or fewer absences per semester will be entered in a drawing for prizes ranging from food, to a Raleigh bike. The schools that most improve attendance will receive school-wide prizes, like a visit from Molly Moon's ice cream truck.
All the prizes are being donated by local businesses, so the entire program costs taxpayers nothing, and the campaign's progress can be tracked at the Get Schooled Seattle website, providing a real-time accounting of the program's success. Get Schooled also provides tips and tricks for improving attendance and staying in school, plus a celebrity wakeup call service where students can sign up to receive personal wakeup calls from the likes of Wiz Khalifa, Nicki Minaj, Trey Songz, Greyson Chance, Ciara, and Sway Calloway. I've got no idea who any of these people are, so they must be cool (or whatever it is kids call "cool" these days)!
Is McGinn delivering the kind of dramatic reforms that will transform Seattle schools? Obviously, no. A mayor can't do that. But he deserves credit for providing initiative and leadership on the absenteeism problem, while focusing on things he can actually do.