Williamson, Community Foundation Honored with National Award for Leadership in Tackling Chronic Absence in New Britain Schools
Foundation Has Played Key Role in Significant Improvement in School Attendance
New Britain, Conn., June 19, 2017 – Back in 2011, the phenomenon of chronic absence among school children and its impact on learning was a newly emerging area of study among educators both locally and nationwide. In New Britain, resources and data were needed, not only to understand the extent of the problem but also to develop a strategy to tackle it.
Jim Williamson and the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain board of directors – in keeping with their priority focus on early childhood development through the Foundation’s First Years First initiative – recognized the need. They reached out to and engaged New Britain school administrators, offering to provide the necessary resources to understand and tackle the issue. As it turned out, New Britain’s rate of chronic absence was nearly double the state average, a revelation for all that led to action and, ultimately, a remarkable turnaround.
For his action and leadership in recognizing the importance of the issue and positioning the Foundation as a catalyst to spur corrective measures, Williamson was honored last week in Denver at the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading’s Funders Huddle with the Catalyst for Change Award. The award was presented by Hedy Chang, founder of San Francisco-based Attendance Works and a nationally recognized expert on chronic absence.
“Jim’s leadership led New Britain educators to use data to realize they had a problem with chronic absence, and encouraged them to bring together key stakeholders to identify and implement solutions,” said Chang. “The resulting practices and dramatic reductions in chronic absence in New Britain have had ripple effects across Connecticut and ultimately the nation.
“Jim Williamson serves as an inspiring example of how philanthropy, especially a local community foundation, can have an enduring impact on improving outcomes for children.”
New Britain is being recognized nationally for its tremendous success in recent years in tackling chronic absence, a major component in the city’s being recognized two years in a row with the National Civic League’s All-America City Award. Since 2012, absenteeism has been reduced for New Britain kindergarten students by nearly 40 percent, and by nearly 45 percent for students in kindergarten through grade 3.
It was Williamson and the Foundation who first brought Attendance Works to New Britain in 2012 to work with the school system, under the leadership of Attendance Officer Joe Vaverchak, to get its arms around the issue and develop a strategy. The school system embraced the help, worked with Attendance Works and used Foundation funding to hire additional staff.
“Jim has always been a visionary and had the foresight to bring Hedy and Attendance Works to New Britain at a time when chronic absence really wasn’t on the map,” said Joeline Wruck, the Foundation’s Director of Community Initiatives who accepted the award on Williamson’s behalf. “While this is such an honor for Jim and the Foundation, he would be the first to say that those who really deserve the recognition are the Coalition for New Britain’s Youth, the school system including Joe Vaverchak and staff, the ones who have been working in the trenches to do this work to turn New Britain school attendance around.”
“I am humbled by this award,” said Williamson, who will be retiring later this year after nearly 13 years leading the Foundation. “For me, such recognition is really more about what our Foundation, and particularly our board, has allowed us to do in addressing key community issues. The fact that we had an enthusiastic and dedicated partner in Joe Vaverchak to implement Attendance Works’ recommendations has been critically important, and so many others have had such important roles in coalescing educators, parents and the community at large around a new culture of school attendance.
“They are the ones who deserve to be applauded.”
Established in 1941, the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain is “Where Good Begins” in Berlin, New Britain, Plainville and Southington. The Foundation works to inspire philanthropy, manage permanent charitable assets effectively, and partner to address key community issues through strategic leadership. For more information, visit www.cfgnb.org.