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Attendance up, chronic absenteeism down with new initiative in Lynn Public Schools

LYNN — School administrative officials are crediting a new attendance initiative this year in Lynn Public Schools with increasing attendance and reducing chronic absenteeism in many of the district’s schools over the last year.

“This initiative, what it means to me and a lot of people, especially in the city of Lynn, especially in this neighborhood, it’s hope,” said School Committee member Brian Castellanos. “Education might be the only opportunity to grow a career, to grow a family, an opportunity to thrive in this very competitive society that we live in.

“Growing up in Lynn, I think it’s a very important piece to note that we do have these struggles with social emotional, socio-economic equities. It impacts everybody, every level, every class level and there’s a lot of work and evidence-based practices being done to improve that.”

“Every Student, Every Day” is the Lynn Public Schools K-12 attendance plan being rolled out this school year, which focuses on getting kids to school every day. School administrative officials believe the initiative will help student achievement increase as absenteeism decreases.

Deputy Superintendent Kimberlee Powers said district leaders view absenteeism as a manifestation of a much bigger need and the aim of the plan was to target at-risk students with chronic absenteeism, defined as being absent 18 or more days, or missing 10 percent or more of a school year.

Four months into the rollout of the initiative, Powers said results seem to show it’s working. Attendance has increased or remained steady at all but three of the district’s 26 schools. Declines were seen at the Early Childhood Center, Breed Middle School and Lynn English High School, with numbers down a combined 1.2 percent.

Chronic absenteeism has decreased in all but five of the district’s schools — Aborn Elementary School, Drewicz Elementary School, Early Childhood Center, Ford Elementary School and Breed Middle School.

Powers said there’s a district-wide struggle with attendance in kindergarten, but highlighted a reduction in chronic absenteeism district-wide in grades 3-8 and high school, which showed a decline of 1.2 percent and 6.1 percent respectively.

Chronic absenteeism is one of the factors that counts toward how the district is graded by the state under the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) new accountability system.

Results released this year show the district is “partially meeting” its targets. It failed to meet its target for high school chronic absenteeism, which was 32 percent for the 2017-18 school year.

Last year, 35.8 percent of students were chronically absent at the high school level district-wide, but so far this year that number is down to 29.7 percent.

Despite the positive results, chronic absenteeism and attendance continue to be a major challenge the district faces, as improvements were mainly modest.

“The overall theme is that both attendance and chronic absenteeism is trending in the right direction,” said Powers. “The important structures of having students come to school every day have been built, (but) it’s just the beginning.”

The next steps include a focus on social and emotional learning. Administrative officials have said chronic absenteeism can be a result of something else that’s prominent in a student’s life, such as a struggle with mental health issues, homelessness or transportation. A student could be struggling academically and just giving up, or they could have a difficult relationship in school affecting them.

Powers said the focus would be on improving each school’s culture and climate, putting into place the needed supports for the social and emotional well-being of every student and developing social and emotional learning resources and programming, which would support the district’s most vulnerable and marginalized students and families.

 

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