Improving Student Attendance is Win-Win

By Matthew Polk

Last school year, more than 2,000 Waco ISD students missed at least 17 school days (10% of the school year). Students who miss 10% or more of school in a year are referred to as “chronically absent.” On average, chronically absent students make lower grades, perform worse on standardized tests, and are less likely to pass their classes and graduate than students with better attendance. Most parents don’t realize that missing just two days a month throughout the year makes a student chronically absent and puts them at risk for academic struggles.

The famous movie director Woody Allen is often quoted as saying, “80% of success is showing up.” This statement is pretty true for success in school! It’s obvious that when students aren’t in school, it is hard for them to learn. And we know that students who attend school more often do better on average than those who are chronically absent. This means that one of the most effective (and easiest!) ways that parents can help their children be successful in school is just to make sure that they show up!

But there’s another reason why it’s important for students to be in school: MONEY. Many people don’t know that public schools in Texas receive state funding based on how often students attend school. This financing system is called Average Daily Attendance (or ADA) funding. For every day that a student misses school, Waco ISD loses at least $30 in state funding. Adding up all the school days missed by Waco ISD students last year, we calculate that Waco ISD lost out on at least $2 million in state funding.

Parents and the community usually have a wish list of things they’d like the school district to provide: more arts classes, more counselors and tutors, more afterschool programs, etc. Imagine how many things on that wish list could be done with $2 million. When students attend school, they are not only more successful—they also earn state funding that is used to make their school experience better. That’s a win-win situation for students and the school district.

How do we improve school attendance for Waco ISD students? It’s what we would call a “collective impact” approach—many partners being a piece of the puzzle. Some collective impact projects work with health care providers for mobile clinics and public awareness campaigns. Additionally, when healthcare providers arrange for same-day appointments for sick children first thing in the morning, children get the care they need and then they can go back to the classroom. When follow-up appointments are scheduled after attendance is taken for the day, students can start the day at school, be counted present, and return with an excuse for the missed class time.

Some collective impact projects provide mentors for students and families of chronically absent students. They engage local churches and organizations to assist their members when problems arise with getting students to school. Other collective impact efforts work to eliminate social and emotional reasons for chronic absenteeism such as substance abuse in the home or homelessness.  There are many ways for Wacoans to get involved and assist Waco ISD with chronic absenteeism. If schools, families, and community partners all focus on improving student attendance, we can make it happen.

For information about getting involved in the collective impact work to prevent chronic absenteeism in Waco ISD contact me at Prosper Waco, 254-741-0081, or Dr. Robin McDurham at Waco ISD, 254-755-9601.

This Act Locally Waco Blog post was written by Matthew Polk. Matthew is Executive Director of Prosper Waco. Prior to that, he served as Superintendent of Rapoport Academy Public School. He and his wife attended Baylor, and after spending a few years in the northeast, they returned to Waco to raise their family. They have four children, ages 10 to 2 years old. You can contact him at

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.

Parents have one thing in common

By Felipe Garza

I was fortunate to be born in this great country. Things are not perfect, but there is still the opportunity to seek out our Dreams. My great grandparents made the sacrifice.  They left everything behind in hopes of a better life for themselves and future generations to come. They found that it was not easy. Like any immigrant from any culture, they found it difficult. They had to learn a new language, a new culture, and a new education system for their children.   They were willing to do this because, regardless of what culture you represent, parents have one thing in common.  Whether they speak English or Spanish, they want their children to receive a quality education and to have a better life than they did…a happy, fruitful life with time to enjoy family. We are all united in our hope for those who follow us. I share with AVANCE families that the key to achieving this goal is an education.

 AVANCE is a two-generation education nonprofit dedicated to parental involvement and child development. We believe that parents are the first teachers.  We parents must be lifelong learners. Let our children see how important education is to us. Let them see us reading. Set a family reading time. This is the first thing we must do.

A second thing we must do is become engaged in the education of our children at school. We all need to help parents partner with schools to become better advocates for their children’s academic progress. This partnership can start with supporting those who work and teach our children. Teachers are truly concerned and want to see the students succeed. I see it in my daughter who is a teacher. I see it in the teachers here at AVANCE. I see it in the leadership of WISD. I know that WISD Superintendent Dr. Marcus Nelson expects his students to experience success.

We are all stakeholders in the future of our Waco community. We, starting with parents are the best education advocates for our children. Get involved in your child’s school, know your child’s teacher and be accessible. Attend school board meetings and let your presence be seen and your voice heard. We all have different skills that can benefit our local schools.  Get involved and make a difference. It will be the best investment you ever make.

Felipe Benecio Garza  graduated from Our Lady of the Lake University with an MSW.  He has over 40 years experience working with children and families in various leadership capacities. He is on the Board of Texans Care for Children and the Board of Advocates for the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.  He is Executive Director of AVANCE Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.