A former attendance officer who this year joined Brooklyn’s Research and Service High School (RSHS) as attendance coordinator, Augustus Grissett is adapting KiNVO’s features and analytics to meet the unique needs of a transfer school setting.
A lifelong Queens resident, Augustus started his career in 1999 as a math teacher at Benjamin Banneker Academy in Brooklyn, where he taught sequential math up through Statistics and Advanced Placement Statistics and also served as head dean. While at Banneker in 1999, he launched a basketball tournament that then expanded to other schools.
After a few years, the tournament was recognized by the district’s superintendent, who at the time had just been selected by Mayor Bloomberg to head the Department of Youth and Community Development With the Department of Education’s goal of starting a middle school fitness and sports initiative, the superintendent asked Augustus to spearhead the basketball component. From that endorsement Augustus was able to create the C.H.A.M.P.S. Middle School Basketball League. His Statistics curriculum came in handy when it was time to train over 100 high school students to be timekeepers and scorekeepers at games across the city.
That first year was a balancing act, with Augustus managing the basketball league—over 220 teams across five boroughs—alongside his duties at Banneker. He was then offered a full-time role in the Department of Education’s Office of Physical Education and Health, where he oversaw the league’s expansion to over 300 teams. The league is now headed into its 15th year and it currently the second largest basketball league in the nation, rivaled only by the PSAL.
After several years managing the league at the DOE, Augustus transitioned to serve as an attendance officer in 2008. He spent the next 8 years working for schools across Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. In order to complete graduate school for his licensure requirements, Augustus had to step back from the attendance officer role. When the opportunity arose to work at RSHS with Principal Allison Farrington, whom he had met through his previous role, he was excited to come on board and “see if we could complete this mission together.”
Augustus Grissett, Jr.
Research and Services High School
2015-2016 School Year
KiNVO, Community Summits
If you’re here, you are going to have the best chance at being able to finish.Augustus Grisset
Her goal is to get 70% attendance, which is quite a lofty goal for a transfer school.Augustus Grisset
I wanted to take on that challenge and see if there’s a way to help.
Augustus has long admired Principal Farrington’s efforts in increasing attendance amid the uniquely challenging backdrop of a transfer school population. “She already has one of the highest rates amongst the transfer schools,” he explains. “Her goal is to get 70% attendance, which is quite a lofty goal for a transfer school. I wanted to take on that challenge and see if there’s a way to help.” While his experience as an attendance officer set the foundation for the position, RSHS presents a different set of obstacles than the ones faced in the K-12 arena.
A student body that is “over-age and under-credited” means many have already been chronically absent for much of their school careers. Traditional intervention techniques—such as having parents step in or turning to child services—don’t apply. Many of his students live on their own or with other family members, following years of school and location changes.
In the transfer school space, Augustus explains, the biggest priority is messaging that “if you’re here, you are going to have the best chance at being able to finish.” So he is deploying all the tools at his disposal to get his students to show up. First comes an understanding of how their pasts shape their current situation. He emphasizes the importance of understanding individuals’ backgrounds in order to re-engage them. “It may not be simply that they don’t care,” he says. A culture shift in language is critical too: “You don’t want to have them come in and be like, ‘Oh where were you?”” he says, as that might discourage already hesitant or disengaged students.
Since getting students in the building is “half the battle,” Augustus has embraced KiNVO to help them surmount that first hurdle. But he acknowledges that the intervention won’t work the same way it does in a high school K-12 environment. For students with frequent or prolonged absences—many students are out on average two days a week, Augustus says, with others out weeks or months at a time—a parent being texted that their child missed period two is probably not going to make a big difference.
Instead, he is tailoring KiNVO’s capabilities toward what will motivate his students. With direct-to-student messaging, he can easily check in with students on their terms. “They see it as a respect level to be able to speak to them directly, rather than always going through their parents, who have heard it one thousand times before at this particular point in their school career that they are not coming or not applying themselves.”
Augustus also appreciates being able to get information to students immediately, rather than waiting for them to listen to a voicemail or check email. That helps with keeping students aware of upcoming deadlines, which are critical pieces of the tight transfer school schedule.
The messages are far from a panacea. Correct contact information is hard to track down, given how often many students changed homes or schools. And Augustus worries that some users may become desensitized to frequent communications but figures that “for those that would tune out, they would tune it out if it was a call, letter or a text.”
Next fall, RSHS plans to use only KiNVO for period attendance. That means Augustus is working hard over the summer to ensure that teachers feel confident using the system and to review how to make reports user-friendly for parents and staff. He looks forward to integrating KiNVO data into current attendance initiatives at RSHS, which include an “MVP” club where students done t-shirts to showcase improved monthly attendance rates. Augustus is committed to celebrating successes that may seem small to outsiders—like a 0.2% jump in attendance from October to November—because he wants to reinforce every step in the right direction. “Even though they’ve been absent for weeks at a time or even months at a time,” he says, “ There is still a place for them here,”