Moore County's School District Mounts Attendance Campaign page

School District Mounts Attendance Campaign

School District Mounts Attendance Campaign
This is the image for the news article titled School District Mounts Attendance CampaignMary Kate Murphy, The Pilot

With the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic behind it, Moore County Schools is under pressure to make up for time lost to quarantines and virtual learning.

This month the school board set firm goals to bring more students to grade-level proficiency, especially in reading and math, by 2024 — and to accelerate academic growth even more among minority and economically disadvantaged children.

Next month, administrators and teachers from around the district will brief the school board on their plans to achieve those goals. But the basic prerequisite for all of those plans is outside of the schools’ control.

That factor is student attendance: whether students are dropped off at school or board their bus each morning. But in addition to what educators have termed “learning loss,” the pandemic has had another lingering effect on schools.

“The situation over the last two years has really just kind of disoriented folks in terms of prioritizing attending school,” said Southern Middle Principal Shaun Krencicki.

Schools have several ways of gauging attendance, but any way they look at it, the proportion of students in seats took a hit during the pandemic. Average daily attendance across the district fell to 93 percent in 2020-2021 from 96 percent before the pandemic.

Chronic absenteeism doubled from 14 percent to 28 percent in the same period. Those students missed at least one day for every 10 they were enrolled in the district, or at least 18 days over the school year.

The schools have not reported data from the most recent school year. But from experience, educators don’t recall attendance improving very much.

“Attendance was atrocious last year. You had kids that were quarantined multiple times. Before they limited or reduced the rules it was pretty intense,” said Krencicki.

“You had kids that were missing weeks of school at a time, and that happened last year.”

COVID-19 and quarantines are still keeping students and teachers out of school, to a lesser extent. But the schools have started the year with an effort to rebuild a culture of commitment to attendance.

Signs outside campuses declaring “When Moore Are Present, Moore Succeed,” are just the most visible element of that campaign.

“We are in the process of analyzing the data to identify patterns and determine next steps by the district and to support building efforts,” Heather Stewart, the district’s innovation and special projects coordinator, told the school board last week.

“We know that students who attend school regularly have shown to achieve at higher levels than students who do not.”

Chronically-absent students are less likely than their peers to read on grade level in elementary school or graduate from high school. They’re more likely to develop anxiety about going to school after an absence then they are to acquire good habits like turning in work on time or sticking to a daily schedule.

In high school, missing more than nine days of state-tested required courses like biology and English I results in an automatic failure regardless of how well the student is performing otherwise.

So the schools are ramping up efforts to motivate students, and failing that their families, to make sure they’re at school every day. Union Pines is reinstating exemptions from non-state final exams for students with perfect attendance who are passing the class otherwise.

High schools already have a system in place to notify parents if their student misses any class period. Krencicki said that the middle schools are in the process of adopting a similar measure with an automated call to the families of students who aren’t at school by midmorning.

But Southern Middle’s primary appeal to its families will be through Saturday schools at the end of each grading period, and after school tutoring programs.

Starting next semester, Southern Middle’s school days will be 15 minutes longer. That will allow four previously-scheduled school days in February, March, April and May to serve as “intervention” days when its struggling students can receive more individualized attention. Only about 25 percent of Southern students will attend school those days.

“Attendance really isn't the issue; loss of instruction is the issue,” said Krencicki. “That's a way to disincentivize missing school and capture kids who weren’t able to be here for one reason or another.”

As a state-designated “Restart” school, Southern has the flexibility to make those changes — which the school board approved last week. Federal Title I funding will pay a handful of teachers to tutor after school.

The added school time for struggling students isn’t specifically geared toward students who are routinely absent. But it's a way for the school to literally put its money where its mouth is in convincing families that instructional time can make a difference for their children.

“You can’t compel parents to do anything unless they believe that what you’re doing is important for your students. That’s on us,” said Krencicki.

“Really you're just trying to capture those kids that miss more than they need to because it’s just a habitual lack of concern about actually being present at school.”

Click here to view the article on The Pilot's website that was published on September 20,2022.
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