NYS Exposed Education: Chronic absenteeism in the Rochester City School District

September 15, 2016 05:45 PM

Rochester -- One out of every three students in the Rochester City School District is chronically absent.  It’s a problem the district has been dealing with for decades but over the last several years some progress has been made.

With a graduation rate hovering around 50 percent, attendance is crucial to getting student performance up but on any given day, thousands of students in the RCSD miss school.   

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Kalizhah Britt is a sophomore at East High. She’s always been committed to school but when it comes to her friends, "Some are pregnant, some drop out cause the school work is too hard, some made it, some graduated," she tells News10NBC.

Britt says often whether kids come to school or not is a direct result of what’s going on at home. "I learn from what I see around my environment, like when I see bad things happening it makes want to do better because I don't want to end up in jail or dead, so I do what I got to do, I pray just to be where I want to be," Britt says adding that her family plays an important role in her education. "My mom, she makes sure I'm in school, she wakes me up, my grandmother wakes me up, they make sure I do all my work, any concerns... I call them, if the teacher has any concern, they call my mom."

The school district says if all students had the attitude and determination Britt does, its job would be easy but they don't. There are 28,000 children in the district and in 2015, 8,784 of them were deemed chronically absent.   

Dr. Eva Thomas, RCSD Director of Youth Development: "After first or second grade, that engagement tends to drop off so that is our goal this year to change that because they need to be there every step of the way."
Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC): "How do you respond to any attitude of 'well, as long as they get there enough, they'll pass?'"

Dr. Thomas: "It’s not enough, it's not enough and nine times out of 10 that type of parent, they may have had a bad experience with school."
Jennifer Lewke: "If kids don’t show up, what happens?"
Dr. Thomas: "We call home every time a student doesn’t show up. We send letters home if it persists."
Jennifer Lewke: "And if it still continues to happen, you have a team of people that go knocking on doors?"
Dr. Thomas: "Two of the people from the support team will go out or the parent liaison will go out with one of the representatives from the support team and will go and check on those students. If actions aren't taken, then we do a CPS referral and then it goes to family court but it's never neglected, we are always on top of it, it's very important."

RCSD also has what it calls "Parent University" which offers free classes on the best ways to interact with and encourage kids to get to class. There’s also a new app that parents can download that tracks attendance.

The initiatives seem to be working. In 2013 the absentee rate in RCSD was 38 percent, in 2014 it dropped to 35 percent, in 2015 it was 33 percent and this year the district is reaching for a goal of 30 percent. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. The national absentee rate is 13 percent and the NYS absentee rate is 11.2 percent.

Jennifer Lewke: "What would you tell your friends if they were thinking, 'I might just not show up to school today' or 'I might just not show up anymore.'"

Kalizjah Britt: "They need love or something that makes them... they need to be held and loved so they can be able to get up and join and want to go to school."


Jennifer Lewke

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