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Monfredo: We Need A Comprehensive Plan For Chronic Absenteeism…

Sunday, June 26, 2016

 

At the last school committee meeting  I requested that we send a letter of congratulations to the schools who had a low chronic absentee level for the year that was half of the total 12. 2% for the district. Coming in first was Heard Street School followed by Flagg Street, Midland Street, May Street, Nelson Place, Tatnuck Magnet, Waweus Road, Worcester Arts Magnet, Worcester Technical High School, Thorndyke Road, Roosevelt, University Park Campus, Woodland Academy and Burncoat Middle School.

These 14 schools were 50% below the district’s chronic absentee rate of 12.2 % which was a slight improvement from last year.  Needless to say the district still needs to address this important issue now. 

Many times as a district we get caught up in many not so significant issues pertaining to students but chronic absenteeism is not one them.   As research points out … if you want to lower that achievement gap you start with improving attendance. 

Common sense and as research suggests attending school regularly is important to ensuring children develop a strong foundation for learning for if they are not in school they aren’t learning.  We all know that early grade level attendance is essential for this is where the readiness skills and the development of good work habits take place.

Data in the Worcester Public Schools  shows on the positive side that the elementary level is improving but more work is needed in our secondary schools.  Again, it’s our low –income students who continue to be absent the most.

Chronic absence can be significantly reduced when schools, parents and communities work together to monitor and promote good attendance and address hurdles that keep children from getting to school. This is a problem that the teachers and schools cannot address on their own. At the same time, everyone has something they can contribute. For example,

•    Parents can set the routines that help their children get to school on time every day.
•    Preschool instructors and early care providers can help families and children build good attendance habits.
•    Afterschool programs can reach out to the families of chronically absent children to uncover and address barriers to attendance and help children catch up with school work.
•    Health care programs can take preventive steps to keep children from getting sick and ensure schools are equipped to address the needs of children with chronic illness.
•    Advocates and policymakers can ensure that school districts are tracking chronic absence and analyzing patterns.
•    Foundations can support public efforts to improve attendance.

 Chronic absenteeism is an area that we must continue to have as a high priority.  A few years ago, after filing an agenda item on this issue, the schools started the year with an attendance campaign to alert the public and the parents that attendance matters.  I’d like to see that campaign continue with posters made by the children and information sent to all of our P.T.O.’S.  

 

 I suggested at the meeting that we roll out a campaign in September and have the month as an Attendance Awareness Month.  Research shows that the early part of the school year is an important threshold for establishing attendance habits for the rest of the year. 

In addition, we will also need a sustainable plan for the entire school year with bench marks and a quarterly  reports  on our progress.

At the meeting I asked administration to come up with a plan and bring it back to the School Committee in August as part of the campaign  for “Attendance Awareness Month.   I suggested that perhaps Superintendent Binienda  get the best band in Massachusetts, the South High band, to be part of the kick-off.

We all need to keep in mind that attendance improves when schools remain focused on attendance goals for even without improvements in the education system attendance will drive up achievement.  That’s how important the issue of attendance is to this community.

I’d like to reinforce what we will attempt to do with a few suggestions for the school district to consider as part of the August plan…

-    Continue to monitor attendance weekly in our schools with an attendance team and contact parents after three days of missed school.
-    Continue our work with public, community agencies , inter-faith leaders and have them address this issue with our parents and students and ask them to  assist us.  Those meeting should be in the early fall and then a follow-up in January … we want this issue to be a shared civic priority…
-    Continue to offer incentives for attendance in our schools 
-    Continue to educate our parents about the importance of attendance especially those parents in pre-k to grade two.
-    Come up with a plan in our secondary schools, in working with our guidance department as  how we can improve attendance for our students.
-    Request administration establish bench marks on dropping the percentage of chronic absenteeism by reviewing the data at our schools and have an action plan in place. Consider a bench mark of reducing the chronic rate by two percent.
-    Promote a standard definition in order to calculate chronic absenteeism across district. The definition should clarify that chronic absence includes excused and unexcused absences (truancy), as well as days missed due to suspensions or children switching schools."
-    Invest in tools to track individual student attendance.
-    Make reports on chronic absenteeism publicly available at the district, school, and grade level.
-    Provide parents "real-time data" on their children's attendance.
-    Adopt "early warning" systems that track indicators, including attendance, that may predict high school dropout risk.
-    Consider a poster contest on attendance and have those posters placed within the community.

Also, one final comment on the DID YOU KNOW side…

¥    Starting in kindergarten, too many absences can cause children to fall behind in school. 
¥    Missing 10 percent (or about 18 days) can make it harder to learn to read. 
¥    Students can still fall behind if they miss just a day or two days every few weeks. 
¥    Being late to school may lead to poor attendance. 
¥     Absences can affect the whole classroom if the teacher has to slow down learning to help children catch up.
¥     Attending school regularly helps children feel better about school—and themselves. Start building this habit in preschool so they learn right away that going to school on time every day is important. Good attendance will help children do well in high school, college, and at work.

I look forward to having an attendance plan in place to deal with chronic absenteeism for it’s essential that we do it right.   I believe that this issue can be solved if the community and the schools work together to create a culture of attendance and assist families in overcoming hurdles to getting their children to school.  Again, it must be sustainable and it must be addressed throughout the school year.

 

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