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Lynn schools focus on attendance to increase student achievement

LYNN — School administrative officials believe an initiative that focuses on getting kids to school every day will help student achievement increase as absenteeism decreases.

“Every Student, Every Day” is the Lynn Public Schools K-12 attendance plan being rolled out this school year. It’s one of the two major initiatives of Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler. He is also focused on improving the performance of English Language Learners, who are most at risk of dropping out in the district.

“We see absenteeism as a symptom of something larger,” said Deputy Superintendent Kimberlee Powers. “We’re able to identify those students who may be in need of greater support.”

Powers was referring to targeting at-risk students with chronic absenteeism, defined as being absent 18 or more days, or missing 10 percent or more of a school year.

A poster for the initiative being distributed identifies attendance as the missing piece of a puzzle for students that includes success, connections, dreams, graduation, opportunity, learning, and goals.

Some of the strategies include studying data to determine which students have high absentee rates and working with those families, and reaching out to community partners for support.

Chronic absenteeism, as Powers noted, can be a result of something else that’s prominent in a student’s life. Carolyn Troy, the district’s executive director of social and emotional learning, said students could be struggling with mental health issues, homelessness, or access to transportation.

Powers said a student could be struggling academically and just giving up, or they could have a difficult relationship in school, such as peer issues, affecting them.

“People really underestimate absenteeism and its impact on students,” she said.

Chronic absenteeism can result in different types of at-risk students depending on the grade level. When it starts in kindergarten and continues, it places those students at risk of not being able to read proficiently by third grade.

When it continues, the trajectory is those students will probably drop out. Four years of chronic absenteeism is a statistic that is almost irreversible, Powers said.

Troy and the district’s two supervisors of attendance print out absenteeism data monthly and send it to schools. Data from last year is being analyzed to identify students who ended their school year at risk, and administrators are also looking at students who have already been absent this year.

Administrative officials have held data meetings to target and identify students whose families they need to meet with, and a wellness team, established in every school, reviews the data to understand why a student may be absent.

A letter is sent out to parents of at-risk learners inviting them into the district for a family support meeting to see what what’s going on and how the district can be helpful. Troy said work is being done to figure out where there may be gaps in supports and how to strengthen existing support systems.

The initiative is also about education. The district is doing community outreach and awareness and educating community agencies and doctors’ offices about the impact of chronic absenteeism, which began at the Department of Children and Families (DCF) office in Lynn, with a presentation on Sept. 21.

“I think we’re just potentially looking for them to have a greater awareness and engage in conversation with us and families about the importance of students going to school every day,” Powers said.

Brian Castellanos, a member of the School Committee and social worker for DCF, said he was impressed by the presentation. He said it’s vital to get students to school every day to increase student achievement.

“I never knew how important — every day matters and I deal with kids who are on the fence every day,” Castellanos said. “From where I work, we’re really grateful for having that partnership. It takes a village to really do this work and it’s really important that we got to have that initiative implemented.”

 

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