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News and Opinion Sep 20, 2023

Maximizing Student Engagement and Attendance Through A Collaborative Whole-Child Approach: Lessons from the Field in California

Continuous Improvement, Whole-Child Design and Differentiated Assistance

With a focus on systemic change, Turnaround for Children, now known as the Center for Whole-Child Education at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, partnered with the Butte County Office of Education (BCOE) to explore the integration of whole-child practices in California’s State System of Support. The partners were specifically looking at how districts can address sticky problems such as chronic absenteeism by improving the way adults, families, and young people interact in schools. This work is supported by the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE), which is sharing the findings with other County Offices, Superintendents and decision-makers in the state. 

Starting in the spring of 2021, the Center for Whole-Child Education, and BCOE co-facilitated an improvement community for three schools in the Palermo Union Elementary School District (CA) (PUESD). The improvement community helped participating principals, teachers, and support staff, along with the superintendent, to use the science of learning and development and whole-child design to define and test out strategies and practices to improve learning conditions in their schools. The ultimate goal is building relationships and environments where students and families feel like they belong and are authentic partners in the learning process.  

“By adopting a whole-child approach to address persistent challenges such as chronic absenteeism, you can drive meaningful change within your school district.”

California Collaborative for Educational Excellence

The Report: Lessons from the Field

This August, BCOE, CCEE and the Center published a report highlighting the lessons learned, implications for the California State System of Support, and recommendations for County Offices of Education. Co-authored by Katie Brackenridge (Center for Whole-Child Education) and Sandra Azevedo (BCOE), it highlights opportunities to integrate whole-child design into California’s State System of Support, specifically into the way County Offices of Education work with districts that have been identified for additional support in the state’s accountability system (a process known as Differentiated Assistance (DA). It also identifies structural challenges in the existing DA system and has implications for ongoing work within the State System of Support, particularly as the number of districts eligible for DA continues to grow.  


The report concludes with a set of recommendations for County Offices of Education interested in adopting a whole-child approach to continuous improvement. Examples of recommendations include: 

  • Ensuring that participants in improvement efforts represent a cross-section of stakeholders from across the district
  • Allocating sufficient time for learning across the school year
  • Grounding in a shared understanding of the science and practice of whole-child design
  • Explicitly focusing on building capacity for improvement

Read the Report

Read the full report: Lessons from the Field in California: Continuous Improvement, Whole-Child Design and Differentiated Assistance