Friday, October 12, 2018

Attendance is mission critical to student success

We are about over a month into the new school year now and students and staff have settled nicely into the daily routine.

A top priority in our learning community is to make sure that our students have what they need so they can stay focused on learning. As educators in a small urban district with high needs, we are committed to taking steps to overcome the barriers to learning that persist for many of our students.

That said, in order for students to learn, grow and succeed academically, it is important that they consistently attend school, and arrive in their classrooms on time every day. While our district’s average daily attendance looks good on paper – hovering in the 94-95 percent range ‒ my administrative team and I have been taking a deeper look at individual student attendance and are noticing a troubling trend. More than 40 students in the junior-senior high school have missed three or more school days since the school year began ‒ just five short weeks ago. If this continues, it is a given that some of these students will be categorized as chronically absent, and this may jeopardize their ability to graduate or be promoted to the next grade level.

A study by the Baltimore Education Research Consortium found that students who missed two to four days in September were five times more likely than those who missed fewer than two days to be chronically absent for the year. Chronic absence is defined as missing at least 10 percent – or 18 days – of school over the course of an academic year for any reason. This includes both excused and unexcused absences.

According to the Children’s Aid Society, chronic absence is associated with low academic achievement, and is a strong indicator that those students may eventually drop out of school. It also undermines teaching and learning for all students when teachers must redirect their attention to meet the needs of chronically absent children once they return to school.

Here are some other sobering facts about the impact of absenteeism on students and learning:
  • Students with lower preschool attendance have lower kindergarten readiness scores (University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research).
  • Students who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are much less likely to read proficiently in third grade (Applied Survey Research & Attendance Works, April 2011).
  • By 6th grade, chronic absence becomes a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school (Baltimore Education Research Consortium).
  • 9th grade attendance is a better graduation predictor than 8th grade test scores (University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research).
  • Students who live in communities with high levels of poverty are four times more likely to be chronically absent than others often for reasons beyond their control, such as unstable housing, unreliable transportation and a lack of access to health care (The National Center for Children in Poverty).
In an effort to reduce absenteeism and remove other barriers to learning, we have started a school mentoring program for all students in grades 7-12. Every teacher, administrator and most instructional support staff have been assigned two to three students to build personal relationships with and provide positive supports that will help our students feel more connected to school.

Although the mentor program just started, already WJSHS Assistant Principal Kelly Webster reports that it is making a difference. She says:
“There have been several instances this week of staff contacting me when they heard their mentee may be in trouble, or need assistance in school or outside at home. Together we have been able to solve several problems, help get students the supplies they need and more. Our staff continues to amaze and inspire me. I thank them for their dedication to our students. The impact of this program in such a short time has been phenomenal.” 

WYH School Based Health Center up and running

Poor health or undiagnosed conditions can also create barriers to learning for students living in poverty. Lack of adequate health care often may cause students to miss school. As mentioned in my previous blogs, we now have a school-based health center that is up and running at Watervliet Jr./Sr. High School. The new health center is a partnership between our school district and Whitney Young Health that provides services on site to students in our schools. School-based health services include primary medical care, dental care, mental/behavioral health, and health education and promotion. Students can be treated for common illnesses such as the flu or strep throat, or chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes. It is open to every student in the district from kindergarten through grade 12, but to be eligible to receive services parents must complete a registration packet for their child(ren). I strongly encourage parents to take advantage of this program. Download an application packet

Backpack Heroes returns to WES 

Another well-known barrier to learning is hunger. When students come to school hungry, they cannot fully focus on or engage in learning. All of our students receive breakfast, lunch and an after-school snack at no charge through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). We also offer the Food is Fuel backpack program that provides our elementary students a bag full of food each weekend of the school year. 

I thank everyone who assisted with the Backpack Heroes Phone-a-thon on Oct. 4 at Watervliet Elementary School. Members of the PTA, WSSA, WTA, WAA, the Board of Education and the community joined Liz Bishop from CBS 6 News and representatives from Fidelis Care to raise money for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern NY. Our youth cheerleaders also contributed to the effort with an on-air cheer encouraging everyone watching to donate.

Our Food is Fuel program assists more than 60 elementary students and their families by providing a bag full of food every Friday to help alleviate hunger for children over the weekend. Last year, we were able to feed 70 families through this program. Because we received less funding this year, the success of the Backpack Heroes Phone-a-thon is even more critical as we try to make up that loss of funding and provide a Food is Fuel backpack to all students who need it.


Finally, October is National Principals Month. I greatly appreciate our school principals and assistant principals – Ryan Groat, Loida Lewinter, Kelly Webster, David Wareing and Michael Foust – for their leadership and their commitment to and support for students and staff alike. I am proud to work alongside such dedicated leaders. Please join me in thanking them for all they do for every student, every day!