newsom.midmarket.jpgSchool district officials and representatives from the Police Department and community-based organizations joined San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom today to recruit community members to help in a new collaborative effort to reduce truancy in city schools.

Newsom visited merchants along 24th Street in the city’s Mission District today, taping in storefront windows the first batch of flyers informing residents about the relatively new Truancy Assessment and Resource Center and asking community members to help reduce school absences by reporting truant students.

The call for community assistance began at L’s Cafi at 24th and Bryant streets at 11:30 a.m., where Newsom and San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Carlos Garcia were among the speakers who discussed the community’s role in keeping kids in school.

Newsom said the flyers encouraging people to utilize the truancy center’s services will not only lead to greater support of anti-truancy programs, but also show chronically truant students how serious the city is about their education and let parents of troubled youths know they have a support system in their community.

“We’ve been working on truancy since the late ’90s,” said Wesley “Chip” Rich, the executive director of Urban Services YMCA, one of the community organizations at the heart of the truancy center. “When someone like the mayor turns his attention to an issue, it tends to get results, so this is very exciting.”

The resource center, located in Suite 106 at 44 Gough St., is the city’s first centralized anti-truancy effort and the only such resource center for students in the country, Newsom’s office said.

The facility was largely funded by a $265,000 grant from the city’s Department of Children, Youth & Their Families.

Case managers from Urban Services YMCA, whose caseloads are limited to 20 students per manager, work onsite to assist the youths and parents. The center is contracted to work with 200 students during the 2010-2011 school year, and 30 were assessed in its first month.

Students who have been absent more than six times, been evaluated by the School Attendance Review Boards, or have been picked up for truancy by San Francisco police more than once will be sent to the truancy center for assessment and resource provision.

The center aims to reduce truancy by finding out why each child is skipping school and helping them overcome the reasons.

“I think this is really good for (the students),” said Cindy De Losa, an employee and resident artist at Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center at 24th and Harrison streets, another stop on Newsom’s papering stroll down 24th Street.

“They’re not just rallying them up. They’re teaching them the reasons to go to school,” she said.

The 24th Street commercial corridor is a hotbed for truants, particularly from the nearby elementary schools, according to police and several of the merchants Newsom visited.

De Losa said she sees many young people sitting on stoops on Harrison Street around the corner from Precita Eyes. L’s Cafi co-owner Lourdes Lozano said many could be found outside of liquor stores in the blocks east of Bryant Street.

Today’s campaign to request community assistance and raise awareness about the truancy center will be replicated in other small-business corridors citywide, according to the mayor’s office.

Newsom asked merchants and community members to be proactive when they see a school-aged youth around the neighborhood during normal class hours by calling the city’s 3-1-1 service line, alerting a police officer, or contacting the truancy center directly.

Representatives of the organizations all agreed that community assistance has been the missing link in the effort to minimize truancy.

“Police are just one arm of (dealing with truancy),” said San Francisco police Lt. David Smith of the Mission District station. “Sometimes a necessary arm – but without community involvement we can’t possibly deal with the numbers.”

Garcia said he believed that San Francisco could decrease truancy to the point where the city is a model for the entire country.

“This is a dream come true,” he said of the mayor’s commitment and the resounding call for community involvement.

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