The Emporia Public Schools Board of Education reviewed a detailed report on “chronic absenteeism” during a brief meeting Wednesday evening at the Mary Herbert Education Center.
In USD 253 schools, chronic absenteeism is defined as “missing 10 percent or more days of school, for both excused and unexcused reasons.” So far, during the 2019-2020 school year, about 16.6 percent of K-12 students — a total of 699 individuals in total — have met the criteria. The figure fell in line with 2018-2019 numbers, when about 19.5 percent — a total of 846 students — were considered chronically absent, which was about 5 percent above reported state averages.
“These incidents fall outside of activities and sports, because when you’re participating in those, you’re still technically in school,” said USD 253 Associate Executive Director of Assessment and Accountability Ryan Karjala. “This data covers when students miss school with unexcused absences due to skipping class or when students miss school because of sickness or family-related issues … These numbers are just a snapshot in time. So hopefully, with some of the initiatives we’re trying to do, we’ll be able to bring these numbers down.”
According to Karjala, the district is attempting to address attendance problems by identifying their root causes on a case-by-case basis in order to prevent further academic issues. He went on to define some of the most common reasons for missing school into two main categories: aversion — which can involve factors such as academic and social struggles, bullying, ineffective or exclusionary school discipline or undiagnosed disabilities — and disengagement — feelings of which can be brought on by lack of culturally engaging or relevant instruction, lack of meaningful relationships, a poor “school climate” or lack of motivation due to a shortage of earned credits.
“Students that are missing classes on a regular basis tend to miss those college benchmarks on state assessments, too,” Karjala said. “It’s not a huge percentage below the benchmarks — about 2 percent on average — but if that consistent lack of attendance continues throughout a student’s entire educational career, those percentages can start to build up.”
So far, several district schools have attempted to meet this goal with use of outside sources, such as Communities in Schools support staff, which currently serve at William Allen White, Logan Avenue and Walnut elementary schools as well as the high school. The district has also begun using a program called EduClimber, which provides a list of chronically absent students that is automatically sent to principals on a weekly basis.
“The [system] isn’t to the level we want it at yet, but we’re working toward that … teachers can also see attendance numbers when they log in, which has also been helpful.” Karjala said. “We’re also working very hard on our school redesigns, so our curriculum is more engaging and meaningful to students that might not see the value in attending classes.”
Moving forward, Karjala said one of the district’s main goals would be to “support the social-emotional development of the educational community” by developing strategies to promote healthy relationships, enhancing the sense of security students feel in their learning environment and emphasizing a ‘whole student’ approach to teaching.
“It’s great that we can see the programs we already have are sort of dovetailing nicely to address the problem, but there’s obviously still a lot we can do,” said Board President Art Gutierrez. “Knowing the numbers and having those tools to address the issue going forward is really something that’s going to start making a difference if we in the district keep at it.”
In other business, board of education members also:
• Accepted a $20,000 donation from the Hopkins Foundation and a $25,000 donation from Jones Foundation to continue funding of the Dual Credit Scholarship Program at EHS.
• Accepted a $527.61 donation from the Riverside PTO to the Riverside Elementary music program for the purchase of instruments.
• Signed a memorandum of understanding with Greenbush Southeast Kansas Education Service Center to again provide a driver education program in Emporia.
• Agreed to dispose of the following through online auctions: 16 laptop computers, four desktop computers, five monitors, 103 network access points, six network switches, 120 hard drives and a tablet.