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Leaders in Attendance, Discipline Reform, Restorative Justice Honored

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Among the 10 Champions of Change whom President Barack Obama honored last week, two might be of special interest to readers of this blog.

This annual honor is reserved for Americans who promote educational excellence for African-Americans in their communities.

Hedy Chang leads the San Francisco-based Attendance Works, a national and state initiative to address chronic absenteeism. In this piece for Education Week's Commentary pages, she urges lawmakers to include students who are chronically absent as a measure of whether schools are successful.

And my colleagues have written about how chronic absence is one of the strongest and most often overlooked indicators of a student's risk of becoming disengaged, failing courses, and eventually dropping out of school.

Also honored was Joyce Parker. As director of Citizens for a Better Greenville, her work is all aimed at improving life for students in this town in the Mississippi Delta. I've spoken with her for articles, including this one, about a student who was suspended from school for weeks over a misunderstanding over a cellphone.

Read about all of the people honored by the White House here.

On a related note, Matthew Willis, the assistant principal of William C. Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colo., was honored recently for his work in bringing restorative practices to his school to improve student behavior.

Willis was named national assistant principal of the year over the weekend by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. He is credited with dramatically changing the culture at the diverse 2,000-student school.

When he began working at Hinkley, the school was known for clashes among students and gang activity. Among other measures, Willis trained his staff members in restorative practices and secured funding from the Denver Foundation for ongoing professional development. During his first year at the school, there were 263 restorative sessions and referrals for minor offenses dropped by 18 percent.

"This focus on restoring adult-to-student relationships when discipline issues arise is drastically changing our schoolwide culture," said Jinger Haberer, principal of Hinkley, in a statement.

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