Taryn Cheeks is the Community School Director for Brooklyn Community Arts and Media High School (BCAM) through the Center for Supportive Schools (CSS). This is Taryn’s second year with CSS and her first year at BCAM. Previous roles include serving as a dean of students and assistant principal in charter schools.
Following a year of emphasizing attendance at BCAM, Community School Director Taryn Cheeks is excited to escalate her team’s focus on accurate records and positive parent engagement through KiNVO.
This year, Taryn spearheaded new initiatives to “push, celebrate and honor attendance” in a public way. They started rewarding students with at least 90% monthly attendance with pencils and certificates, but “stepped it up” from there with food celebrations that appealed to the teenage crowd. Incentives range from sundae bars and “breakfast for lunch” in the cafeteria to an ice-skating trip for students with perfect attendance. Announcing names during community circle and posting them on bulletin boards also broadcasts success. Taryn wants the incentives to be visible as additional motivation.
Taryn says consistency was key to getting students invested. At first the students were skeptical, thinking the celebrations would fizzle out. But once they realized they were happening every month, students began asking “can you see what my attendance rate is?” and committing to showing up to be eligible for the upcoming reward.
In addition to celebrating strong attendance, the BCAM attendance team connects weekly to analyze data and plan interventions. It meets “religiously every Tuesday morning,” with the agenda shaped by that week’s needs. The team discusses students who were absent two or more times the previous week and plans how to get them in the door, which could range from holding a phone call with a supportive teacher to procuring external support.
Since BCAM became a Community School, the team has more capacity with three additional members. It now includes Taryn, an assistant principal, an AmeriCorps support staff member, the parent coordinator, the pupil personnel secretary, and both school social workers.
BCAM’s intensified use of KiNVO next year will bolster her ability to track and celebrate attendance gains. This year, the BCAM team started to incorporate KiNVO into its daily routine by messaging parents of missing students. Each morning, the dean sits in the cafeteria and uses KiNVO to text parents when students arrive late to first period. After the official third period attendance is collected, the team texts parents their student was marked absent that day.
“As soon as the message was sent, parents were calling back, the phone was ringing off the hook.” While the volume of phone calls was initially overwhelming, Taryn and her team now value their ability to get in touch with parents right away. She estimates that each day 15 to 20 parents call right after the notification and another 10 or 15 text back with a “thank you” or request additional information. “Whatever the situation may be,” Taryn says, “it at least sparks a discussion at home.”
Using KiNVO for daily attendance lets BCAM communicate with families in a more immediate, relatable way. The medium is important, with parents more likely to respond to texts than pick up the phone—especially in the middle of the day when many are at work.
Timing is critical too. Not only are they communicating with parents in an “authentic way,” but reaching out first thing in the morning means there is still time to get the student to school. The attendance notifications have also paved the way for broader communication. Taryn notes that some parents who never previously answered calls now text back asking about grades and behavior.
In launching KiNVO at her school, Taryn credits starting small with a few champions who used it daily. “Once the teachers could see parents were responding and engaging with it, we had the dean as an advocate,” she describes.
For next year, Taryn is eager for KiNVO to ensure the accuracy of attendance data and streamline positive communication. When it came time to distribute monthly awards, Taryn would sometimes uncover inaccuracies like a student accidentally being marked absent the month before. With KiNVO’s reversal reports, Taryn explains, she will be able to quickly identify and correct errors.
When teachers start using KiNVO to take period-by-period attendance, the attendance team can use this data to identify trends across the school day. For example, the team can differentiate a student with consistently strong attendance versus one who may only show up to third period.
Taryn is also excited to use KiNVO for her goal of increasing positive two-way communication between teachers and parents. While she is satisfied with the number of messages teachers sent this year, she would love to see an increase in response rate from parents. Teachers will now have a 40-minute block of time each week to focus on parent engagement, and KiNVO will allow them to use this time to build relationships.
Taryn sees emphasizing positive messages as key, and will be tracking how many “positive” versus “needs improvements” messages go out. Coaching teachers to send positive messages upfront will soften eventual negative messages because goodwill has already been established. “They’re used to you saying something kind, nice and genuine,” Taryn says, “So they understand that [you are] communicating this now because I need your support in addressing this issue.”