City schools make effort to decrease absences
In the division’s first year of reporting quarterly attendance numbers to the School Board, the figures show mixed results.
The switch to quarterly reporting stems from the Board’s summer retreat where attendance was identified as an area of focus.
Assistant Superintendent Beth Baptist said the division is trying to take a school-wide approach to decreasing absences.
“It can’t just be the three attendance counselors that we have, and it can’t just be the person who calls home,” Baptist said. “The kids have got to know that the teachers want them in school, and care about them, and notice when they’re not there.”
While first quarter’s average daily absences at Charlottesville High School fell from 69 last year to 53 this year, 52 seniors have missed ten or more days in the 2013-14 school year.
“Those kids are really at risk,” Board member Jennifer McKeever said. “It’s only the first quarter and four percent of our kids have already missed ten days.”
“We want to get our on-time graduation rate up above 90 percent, and there they are,” McKeever added. “We know they’re at risk, and we know their names.”
Baptist said that since taking the reins at Charlottesville High School, principal Jill Dahl and her staff have been trying to improve how period attendance is tracked and reported, as well as use lunch detention to reinforce the need to attend class.
“Probably the most valuable thing to teenagers is their social time, so when that’s removed from them they tend to understand,” Dahl said. “And then it’s a chance for us to have a one-on-one, or small-group conversation explaining the importance of why they need to be in school, and another opportunity to document, call home, and have a conversation with their parents.”
CHS is also hosting a make-up day on Saturday, November 16 for students who are facing absence issues to complete missed work, and the school is talking about hosting two per quarter in the future.
Despite the number of senior absences, forty-nine percent of CHS students have not missed a day of school, and the total number of unexcused absences improved 30 percent, from 364 last year to 254 this year.
Kindergarten to 8th grade numbers show that division-wide excused absences decreased.
Students with between one and five excused absences improved 23 percent, from 1,177 missed days in 2012-13, to 903 this year.
Only 26 students have posted between six and nine unexcused absences this year, compared to 172 last year, which marks an 85 percent decrease in missed days.
Similarly, students with 10 or more absences posted a 90 percent improvement, from 126 last year to 13 this year.
However, unexcused absences at Jackson-Via Elementary School and Walker Upper-Elementary School jumped 39 and 40 missed days respectively.
Baptist said that the division can’t pinpoint why this spike has occurred, but said that children are more dependent on family members to get them to school at the elementary level.
Additionally, Baptist said, the division has gone as far to distribute alarm clocks and coordinate volunteers to help walk children to school.
While Walker’s unexcused numbers jumped, the number of students with six to nine excused absences improved from 79 last year to 3 this year, and students with ten or more excused absences fell from 62 to 0 this year.
Buford Middle School also saw more children in school.
Students with five or fewer excused absences improved 47 percent, from 272 last year to 143 this year.
Students with six to nine excused absences dropped from 70 last year to 4 this year, and students with ten or more excused absences dipped from 57 last year to 1 this year.
Baptist said that the figures provided to the School Board could appear high because a student who had an excused absence and an unexcused absence is listed in both categories.
“So when you look at the number of students, it’s not always as many different students when you add together the unexcused and excused.”
Board Member Willa Neale said that many teachers have told her that attendance was a challenge to instruction, so she’s glad the division is now reporting data quarterly.
Board chair Juan Wade said he thinks the division’s efforts are making a difference.
“I’m glad that attention is being paid to it this year,” said Wade. “As Beth [Baptist] said several times, we can’t teach them if they’re not there.”