News, School News

Schools continue to tackle attendance & chronic absenteeism

by Kate Evans

Attendance and chronic student absenteeism continues to be a problem at Morgan County Schools, but it is improving overall.  Morgan County Schools Attendance, Maintenance and  Safety Director Jeromy Duelley gave a presentation at the December 20 Morgan County School Board meeting about the  measures schools are taking to improve student attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism.

County, school attendance

Duelley said that Morgan County Schools average attendance as of December 20 was 90.71%.  The percentage was slightly higher than last year’s county attendance of 89.8% as of January 4.  The total percentage of absent students included both excused and unexcused absences.

Berkeley Springs High School average student attendance was 89.1%, Warm Springs Middle School — 90.44%, Warm Springs Intermediate School – 93.12%, Widmyer Elementary – 90.52%, Paw Paw Elementary – 92.5%, Paw Paw High School – 91.63% and Pleasant View Elementary – 91.76%, as of December 20.

Warm Springs Intermediate School and Paw Paw Schools did pretty well in attendance for the first and second nine weeks.  Intermediate school secretary Malinda Ayers is  “on it” and contacts parents right away if there are attendance issues, said school officials.

Chronically absent

To date, 31.59% of county students are considered “chronically absent,” Duelley said. That was down from 34% last year as of January 4.

As of December 20, Berkeley Springs High School had 36.94% of their students chronically absent, Warm Springs Middle School — 32.87%, Warm Springs Intermediate School — 18.96%, Widmyer Elementary — 33.69%, Paw Paw Elementary — 30.58%, Paw Paw High School — 32.89% and Pleasant View Elementary — 31%.

Every school’s chronically absent percentage rose from the first 9-week period to the second 9-week period, with percentage increases ranging from around 4.5% to 25%.

Duelley noted that recent illnesses in the schools had been an attendance  factor.  The flu and RSV hit a couple of schools really hard, said School Superintendent Kristen Tuttle.

Absenteeism is considered chronic when students have missed 10% (or 18 days) of the school year, which is 180 days of instruction.  Schools first do 3-day absence phone contacts with parents. Parents are sent a letter about their child’s absences at Day 5. Other measures are multi-disciplinary team meetings and home visits.

Berkeley Springs High School sent home 243 5-day absence letters in the first and second 9-week periods, down from 263 last year.  Schools sent a total of 477 letters county-wide so far this year as opposed to 609 letters by January 4 last year.  Home visits were down from 21 visits to 11 visits so far this year.  Schools also meet with parents at school about their child’s absences.

Schools are working on getting kids to come to school, Duelley said.  The focus is on students that have between eight and 17 absences and getting parents to bring kids to school, and making school engaging for them.

Schools are using an incentive-based approach to get students to attend.

Community in Schools liaisons are also working on attendance and helping to support students and parents more.

Duelley said they are making progress and hoped they would see better attendance data in the second semester.

Also a state issue

Chronic student absenteeism is a widespread concern across West Virginia.  The current chronic absence rate for pre-K through third grade in West Virginia is 11.80%, according to the West Virginia Department of Education website.

Department of Education officials maintain that missing 10% of the school year, or just 2-3 days every month, “can translate into third graders unable to master reading, sixth graders failing courses and ninth graders dropping out of high school.”