GESD working to curb chronic absenteeism

GLOVERSVILLE — Gloversville Enlarged School District officials have begun knocking on the doors of students who are not engaging in remote instruction and are preparing to implement synchronous learning for core courses at the secondary level to reaffirm the daily school structure whether kids are learning in-person or at home to combat rising absenteeism.

Superintendent David Halloran on Monday briefed the Board of Education on a new effort by the district to reach families of students who are not engaging in schoolwork at home through the formation of street teams.

The effort led by Family and Community Educator Andy Slezak at the secondary level has seen teams of two to three staff members, school counselors and administrators visiting the homes of students who are chronically absent seeking to reengage students in their education. Similar efforts at the elementary school level more heavily involving teachers are expected in the near future.

“A lot of visits are certainly very positive interactions with parents,” said Halloran who has participated in the door-to-door effort. “It’s really boots on the ground work, it’s fun, it’s enlightening, it’s humbling and it’s important that we continue.”

“I think that’s really going to be what gets people to start working with us and understanding we do have their child’s best interest in mind. Kids win when parents and schools are on the same page working together to educate their children,” he added.

While chronic absenteeism rates have been an issue for several years that was reported by the state Education Department at 36.96 percent districtwide for the 2018-19 school year, Halloran indicated that the constraints to education posed by the coronavirus have worsened the problem at GESD and at various other school districts.

“Definitely the students who are fully remote, I would say it’s more of an issue for them,” said Halloran. “Too many of these students who are fully remote are not engaging to the level that they need to be successful.”

Halloran has been encouraging families who opted for the fully remote format to enroll students in the district’s hybrid model of alternating in-person and remote learning and said on Monday that members of the street team initiative have helped convince some parents to send kids back to school in-person.

Many of these parents, according to Halloran, stated that they initially enrolled their children in fully remote learning to see how the resumption of some in-person learning went amidst health safety concerns.

“We have not had any problems, knock on wood, with COVID and so we’re getting a lot of these kids back. But it is alarming because we have a lot of kids that are not engaging, high absenteeism, high failure rates,” said Halloran.

The district has reported only one confirmed case of the coronavirus this school year at Park Terrace Elementary School in September. The infected individual attended school in-person for only one day on what was their scheduled first day of in-person learning. The individual subsequently developed symptoms and quarantined at home, ultimately testing positive for the virus.

The isolated case did not require the school or even the classroom of the individual to close following contact tracing by the Fulton County Public Health Department due to the low risk of exposure under the district’s health safety protocols. The case that was determined to have originated outside of school did not result in any additional reported cases of the virus.

Halloran estimated that since the start of the school year roughly 100 students districtwide or about 20 students per building have returned to school under the district’s hybrid model and he is hoping more parents will contact building principals requesting to have their students return.

“We think in-person instruction, the hybrid model, is the best we have right now,” said Halloran. “Students being in class with teachers, with their peers, we think is in their best interest.”

The district is also pushing to connect students learning from home with their physical classrooms by implementing synchronous learning of all core courses for all students grades six through 12 by Dec. 4. Impacted subject areas include math, science, social studies, English language arts and foreign language.

Halloran notified students and parents of the impending shift in a letter that was sent home and released online and over social media. The superintendent also issued an all-call electronic notification with the information.

The letter specifies that “both those physically present in school and those working remotely from home, will be learning together each day. This will require students who are working from home to follow their daily class schedule as though they were actually in the school building.”

District administrators at the secondary level have been planning to implement synchronous learning since the start of the school year and some teachers have already made the leap. The effort is expected to allow teachers to more effectively cover course material with all of their students at one time while engaging in interactive lessons.

The effort will also allow the district to more accurately track attendance as students are required to log into classes and engage in class discussion or coursework in real-time improving accountability and learning.

“We’re hoping the structure and the schedule is going to help kids. Even though they don’t like the idea of being at home logged onto their class, they need to get back to a schedule and being an active participant in their own education,” said Halloran.

This is assertion was backed up by student board member Cole Raczynski who reportedly surveyed students at Gloversville High School to gather their opinion on the implementation of synchronous learning.

“A lot of them are saying that they’re not a fan of it or it doesn’t work for every class,” said Raczynski. “There are also some other kids who do like it and think it helps them with their grades and tests.”

As synchronous learning is rolled out in the coming weeks, the district will focus on supporting teachers to improve their remote instructional efforts and the Board of Education on Monday approved stipends for eight teachers of $1,100 each who will provide instructional technology support to their colleagues.

“These are teacher leaders to assist their colleagues with tech integration, it’s more important now than ever,” said Halloran. “This is a pretty big move and it’s certainly causing some consternation amongst some of our staff because of what we’re asking them to do, but we feel that what we’re asking them to do is of critical importance to the kids.”

Halloran pointed to the teachers who will receive the stipends to support their colleagues as early adopters of instructional technology who in many cases have already been providing this aid. Among those selected for the task there are two teachers each the high school, middle school and Boulevard Elementary School and one teacher each at Park Terrace and Kingsborough Elementary School.

By Patricia Older