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School district staff member leads a pair of truant students back onto the campus of Hayward High School in Hayward, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (Anda Chu/Staff archives)

Fifty percent.

That was the truancy rate among Hayward students, and it's the highest in Alameda County. Last year, about 44 percent of high school students were chronically absent, missing at least 10 percent of their class periods. These numbers are unacceptable, and they have to change.

But in Hayward, we don't give up. We fight back.

That's why the Hayward Unified School District has partnered with the Hayward Police Department to implement a groundbreaking, grass roots anti-truancy initiative designed to keep kids off the streets and in the classroom during school hours.

The project grew out of Superintendent Stan Dobbs' "Made in Hayward" campaign and began with collaborative meetings between the school district, city officials and the Hayward Area Recreation Department regarding the district's plan to increase high school graduation rates.

The nexus between truancy or chronic absenteeism and graduation is undeniable. We know that for students to go on to college and lead successful, independent lives, they must physically be present in the classroom to learn. Students who miss school struggle academically and some drop out entirely.

Without formal education, these kids are more likely to be unemployed and are at a greater risk of becoming involved in crime, whether as victims or offenders.

Together with HPD's school resource officers under Police Chief Diane Urban's direction, HUSD's Youth & Family Service division and area businesses, the district has coordinated the vital support system schools need to prevent truancy and support students in extraordinary circumstances that are proven to contribute to school attendance issues.

Our truancy projects also are supported by three inimitable community partners: Attendance Works, a San Francisco-based organization leading the charge nationally to improve academic achievement by focusing on chronic absenteeism; and Alameda County Healthcare Services, which tackles attendance awareness from a public health perspective, and Attention 2 Attendance, which focuses on attendance data.

We're so grateful to these partners, which are truly champions for our cause -- and our kids. And, we're proud that the program has already been highlighted by the California Department of Education as a statewide best practice.

In January, representatives from the district, HPD and other community partners canvassed the city on foot to engage area business owners in our fight against truancy.

The idea was simple: We asked these folks if they'd agree to place a sticker on their windows, warning that the business reports truant students to the district.

If concerned business owners or patrons see a student loitering in or around shops or restaurants during school hours, a call to the number placed prominently on the sticker connects them to the HPD dispatch center, where they can report the suspected truancy.

One of the police department's school resource officers then visits the business in question and takes the student back to school. Once on campus, the student meets with school administrators, and, if necessary, the Child & Welfare Office, and ultimately goes back to class.

We were absolutely overwhelmed with the positive response from our community. Business owners were appreciative. They understood the need for kids to be in school to graduate and, in turn, lead productive lives. More than 70 business owners signed up, including every business owner at the Southland Mall.

Local restaurateur Jorge Espinosa, who owns El Taquito Restaurant on Winton Avenue, hopped on board immediately. He has two daughters who attend school in Hayward, he says, and he'd want someone to report them as truant if they weren't in class during school hours. The bottom line, he tells us, is that higher graduation rates will make Hayward better.

We couldn't agree more.

Stan "Data" Dobbs is superintendent and CEO of the Hayward Unified School District. Diane Urban is chief of the Hayward Police Department. If you see a school-age child or teenager at a local business during school hours, speak up. Call 510-293-7000 to report truant students.