Rochester City School District teachers and staff went door-to-door Thursday, visiting roughly 200 students who missed more than 10 percent of school last year.
The goal of this "attendance blitz", said Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams, is to encourage a strong start to the new year and to also better understand the challenges students may face getting to school.
Roughly 30 percent of District students miss more than 18 days of school, said Betsy Hoffer, Associate Director of Student Attendance. She said that’s a high rate that also factors into the District’s struggles with graduation and helping students excel in their academic performance.
“Nationally the Federal government is concerned when there’s 13 percent of kids chronically absent…in Rochester City School District, we’re closer to 30 percent of our kids are chronically absent and they miss 10 percent of school or more," she said.
18 days per year, or 10 percent of the school year, averages out to roughly 2-3 days per month, said Hoffer, which may seem like no big deal but since it’s not always the same students she said teachers get stuck repeating information or students miss out on content altogether, placing them behind.
“If a school has 90 percent attendance, you think ‘Wow 90 percent? If I got a 90 percent on a test, that’s an A,’ but it doesn’t show that at least 10 percent of our kids have had issues with chronic absenteeism and it’s not just 10 percent, it’s different kids at different times,” Hoffer said.
While a day or two of missed school may be unavoidable, she said students must attend consistently if they want to succeed, adding that 9th graders who come every day their first month of school are significantly more likely to graduate.
Additionally, a University of Chicago report found that 9th grade attendance, not 8th grade test scores, better predicted students’ likelihood to drop out.
The attendance blitz isn’t new but Deane-Williams said they’ve made some changes to hold students more accountable.
“What we’ve added this year is a stronger follow-up to include the chiefs of schools where we will monthly meet on the same days the attendance [splits] so we can look at the individual needs of schools and school communities through that lens as well,” she said.
While the attendance blitz focuses on absenteeism, recent comments from the Movement for Anti-Racist Ministry and Action (MAMA) stated that the lack of diversity among teachers also factors into student success. In an interview after the blitz kick-off, Deane-Williams addressed the concerns and said diversity is a priority, stating District leaders are already looking to attract more teachers of color.
“We can look at Chief Kennedy, our chief of human capital, he has been working to expand the recruitment efforts and retention efforts in the District. So I think we can do better. There is always an opportunity to improve."
School starts September 6th and officials say the first month can be very telling in terms of the work that needs to be done to improve attendance.