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Green Bay schools received deductions for chronic absenteeism

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – Staff are looking at chronic absenteeism throughout the district after eight schools received point deductions on their state report cards because of it.

“Chronic absenteeism takes place when a student falls below 84 percent attendance – it’s absent for any reason,” said Stephen Miller, district director of assessment. “That could mean a family took a vacation, that could mean that the child was home sick, an extended illness without receiving any school supports – so any absence counts toward that chronic absenteeism.”

Following a presentation by Superintendent Michelle Langenfeld and Miller at the Monday, Dec. 16, meeting, board members directed staff to bring back specific details on what type of absences are attributing to the chronic problem.
In the past, Miller said only two district schools were sited for chronic absenteeism.

He said he has already been working with administration to look into what can be done to address the “emerging attendance issue.”

Miller said all four comprehensive high schools – West, East, Preble and Southwest – Franklin and Washington middle schools, Howe Elementary and John Dewey Academy of Learning received chronic absenteeism deductions.

“There is a little bit of diversity in the type of schools receiving those deductions, and I did work with all of those principals to analyze the data and there was a variety of different things that causes them to fall into (the) chronic absenteeism category,” he said.

Miller said when the state started the report card program it chose to include all forms of absences in the chronic absenteeism totals.

“It would be one thing if the state said that for these schools we would have some extra supports, we’d have someone from the state reach out and is there something going on here? But it’s just punishment points off of your school’s score,” said Board Vice President Andrew Becker. “Am I glad our scores are going up? Yep, absolutely. Am I glad our schools are doing great? Yep. But let’s not, in my individual opinion, kid ourselves that a lot of this is just made up.”

As requested, staff will bring back a detailed report breaking down the reasons the eight schools received the deductions in the new year.

“In the eight conversations I had with this, each one was different,” Miller said. “The different schools, when we look at their overall data trends, they had very different reasons why kids were missing. We could certainly produce a report that had the breakdown by types of absences.”

Trustee Rhonda Sitnikau said a detailed report is important because students taking vacations vs. students just not coming to class are different.

“I think it is important to, classify, to see on paper where support needs to go,” Sitnikau said.

Becker said he is only interested in the data as a way to help students.

“There is shame behind this statistic,” he said. “I am only interested in it only as far as to it goes to offering help. And only that. I don’t want people changing important family plans because of a statistic someone made up at the state level.”

Trustee Katie Maloney said cold weather could also contribute to the results, especially in the case of Howe.

“Kids are walking to school and they live less than two miles from the school in ice-cold weather,” Maloney said. “If they don’t have a car, no one in the family can get them there, that could be four or five kids missing school that day. The Howe Resource Center has graciously added a bus route for kids who live closer to school, but still a mile away. So schools are trying to find solutions.”

Sitnikau said this is another reason why it’s important for board members to know the breakdown of reasons.

“A lot of the conversations being taken up by something we aren’t even sure is actually the case,” she said. “I think it’s important we know what they breakdown looks like.”

Trustee Kristina Shelton reminded the board the district is also looking at school start times.

“Let us not forget that we are looking at late school start time, which the research tells us can have an impact on chronic absenteeism,” Shelton said. “You listed the middle schools and high schools as being on that list. So it will be interesting as that work moves forward how we can consider that.”

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