Rates of absebteeism swells at GESD

GLOVERSVILLE — The Gloversville Enlarged School District Board of Education was briefed on the efforts of district administrators and local officials to combat swelling rates of absenteeism in the district where 248 students have had 20 or more unexcused absences so far this school year.

During the May 14 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent David Halloran shared the district’s statistics on rates of absenteeism up to that date that showed 587 students with 20 or more absences and 248 students with 20 or more unexcused absences.

“The statistics are staggering,” Halloran said. “This is a quiet crisis in our schools and we need to meet the challenge head on.”

Throughout the school year Halloran has focused on improving attendance across the district that has been flagged by the state Education Department for high rates of chronic absenteeism, defined as a student missing 10 percent or more of a school year, equal to approximately 18 days or more per year.

The biggest push for Halloran has been a move towards parent engagement by district administrators, staff and teachers and by county partners highlighting the dramatic impact missing school has on kids’ lives, which he argued is the greatest concern.

“Parents of chronically absent students need to understand that chronic absenteeism is eroding their child’s likelihood of graduation and ultimately their productivity and success in adulthood,” Halloran said. “Kids lives are being severely impacted by the parents’ unwillingness or inability to get them to school and that’s a problem that we need to own.”

District initiatives have included sending letters home to parents and expanding free ridership on city buses to all GESD students to make it easier for kids to get to school, especially during inclement weather. Next school year the district will transition away from block scheduling to a traditional nine period daily schedule to address teacher certification issues in certain subjects, promote more engaging instruction with shorter class periods and minimize the overall impact missing a day of school has on individual students.

Included in the 2019-20 school budget to be decided by voters today is the hiring of a full-time, in-house communication specialist to assume the duties currently carried out part-time by Capital Region BOCES two days a week. Bringing the district’s communication services in-house will generate a net savings of $12,300 and will allow the district to improve communications with parents in general and around the importance of attendance in particular, according to Halloran.

“That will be one of the priorities that I make clear to that person, to emphasize the importance of regular attendance in school and the negative impact chronic absenteeism has on children’s success in life,” Halloran “Parental buy in on the importance of consistent school attendance is paramount to any changes we hope to make in the future.”

Another priority for Halloran is strengthening the relationship between district parents and guardians and district staff.

“The truth is the vast majority of parents of chronically absent students did not have good experiences themselves when they were in school. Unfortunately that’s a fact,” Halloran said. “We need to continue to engage them to get them to believe that we have their children’s best interests in mind.”

Developing a common language and ideas around attendance is another important point, according to Halloran, who said parents should stop thinking about excused versus unexcused absences to instead focus on the importance of being present in school.

“I want parents to get out of that mindset, because at the end of the day it is about chronic absenteeism, you’re missing instruction and you are severely hampering your child’s ability to flourish in school and ultimately in life,” Halloran said. “If students are sick OK, stay home, there are rare examples of why children should be absent, but these numbers are nowhere close to indicating these students have legitimate absences, the vast majority of them do not.”

Additionally, the district is working closely with Fulton County Department of Social Services Commissioner Anne Solar, Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown and Fulton County Probation Office Director Cynthia Licciardi to work with families of chronically absent children.

Halloran noted that as of May 14 the district attorney had sent letters to 156 students with 20 or more absences. Beyond letters, Halloran said county officials and the district are focusing their attention on working with individual families with multiple children who are chronically absent.

“A family who has one chronically absent student tends to have multiple chronically absent students,” Halloran said. “In some of those families there’s six or seven kids and some have already dropped out because they aged out, others are five years old and missing 100 days of school.”

“Hopefully that will make a difference over time one kid at a time, one family at a time,” he added.

By Patricia Older

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