Superintendent Asks Families to Start Strong on First Day of School

FOR RELEASE:                        Contact:
Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013        Chip Partner
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District, community leaders announce expanded attendance efforts for 2013-14

Citing data that show student attendance improved 2 percent over the past year, local leaders today announced plans to expand the community effort to reduce truancy, and Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, Ed.D., appealed to families to send their children to school every day, starting Sept. 4.

“Research shows that students who attend the first day of school are much more likely to have good attendance throughout the year,” Dr. Vargas said. “The District is working hard to be sure that every school and classroom is ready to welcome students next Wednesday, and we ask every Rochester family to help us start the school year strong by setting a record for attendance on the first day.”

Joined by Mayor Thomas S. Richards and United Way President Peter Carpino, Dr. Vargas announced plans to expand efforts to improve student attendance in 2013-14.  

  • Eight parent liaisons have been added this year, which means every school has at least one employee dedicated to engaging
    families with school—which includes phone calls or visits to homes of truant students and helping remove barriers to school attendance.
  • Monthly “truancy blitzes” will continue this school year, with District and community volunteers visiting the homes of
    chronically absent students from eight elementary schools—three that were targeted last year, and five new schools with below-average attendance.
  • Churches, city recreation centers, non-profit agencies and other community groups are promoting the importance of attending
    school in their work with children and families. This year, some organizations will ask parents for consent to view attendance and report-card data.
  • Families with challenges that prevent their children from attending school are encouraged to call the District’s attendance
    “hot line”—262-8105—for referrals on school-related topics such as enrollment questions or transportation needs. Anyone in the community can call the hot line if they see children during the day whom they suspect are skipping school. Parents can call 211 for help with family issues that affect school attendance, such as housing and health care needs.

District-wide, average daily attendance has improved from 87 percent across all schools and grade levels in the 2011-12 school year to 89 percent in 2012-13. The four schools targeted for community outreach last year—chosen for having the lowest attendance among elementary schools—rose from 88 percent in September to 90 percent in May.

“Students can’t learn if they aren’t in school, so better student attendance is a critical first step on the path to improved achievement,” said Mayor Richards, who issued a proclamation recognizing the City’s observance of national Attendance Awareness Month in September. “The City will continue its support of the effort to reduce truancy, because we are seeing a return on the investment in time and resources.”

Carpino said that supporting students is a priority for United Way of Greater Rochester and a critical need for the entire Greater Rochester community. “A quality education is the single greatest hope we can offer Rochester children whose futures are threatened by a lack of financial and family support,” Carpino said. “Attendance is one of the areas where the community can have the greatest
impact in helping our schools, which will help over time to reduce the social costs of poverty in our community. We applaud the focus and community engagement put forth by Dr. Vargas and his team to make a real impact on the issue of truancy.”

This Friday, participants in a special “back-to-school” truancy outreach will deliver school supplies, schedules and welcoming information to the homes of 80 students whose families have been working with the District to resolve past attendance issues.

Why Attendance Matters

Improving student attendance has been a top District priority since Dr. Vargas became Interim Superintendent in 2011. At 89 percent District-wide, average daily attendance is still far short of the 95 percent attendance typical in middle-class districts.

Though many people assume truancy is a problem only in secondary grade levels, Rochester students in primary grades miss almost as much school. Attendance on the first day—Wednesday, Sept. 4 this year—is important, but typically below average. Data collected by the Pittsburgh Public Schools during 2009-10 show that children who were present on the first day of kindergarten missed an average of nine days during the year; children who were absent the first day missed an average of 18 days of kindergarten.

About 20 percent of Rochester students are chronically absent, which means more than 18 absences out of 180 school days. There is a direct correlation between high absenteeism and poor performance in every measure of student achievement—including test scores, grade point average, and graduation rates.

Truancy costs the community in other ways. It is a leading indicator for juvenile crime and other risky teen behavior. A study in Yonkers found that students in 7th and 8th grade with more than 20 unexcused absences had a 21 percent chance of being arrested within three years, which was three times higher than the average for other youth of the same age in Yonkers’ poorest neighborhoods. Adults who were chronically truant as children have been shown to have lower paying jobs, more reliance on welfare support, greater likelihood of living in poverty, poorer health and increased likelihood of incarceration.

Dr. Vargas noted that efforts to improve student attendance directly support the District investment in increased instructional time.
Twenty District schools will offer extended learning time of 200 or more hours next year, and the longstanding practice of early dismissal on Wednesdays is being discontinued, adding the equivalent of nearly a full week of instructional time.

“I am extremely pleased that Rochester schools will no longer offer our students the least instructional time of any children in
Monroe County, when arguably they need and deserve the most,” Dr. Vargas said. “Improving school attendance, with the support of our community, will enhance the benefits our students receive from increased time and support in the classroom.”