Chronic absenteeism a concern for new Schenectady school chief


SCHENECTADY — The extent to which chronic absenteeism continues to plague the Schenectady City School District is under examination during the early stages of the school year, Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. said late last week.

The state comptroller, which declared chronic absenteeism a widespread statewide problem last year, defines chronic absenteeism as a student missing at least 10% of enrolled school days.

During the Sept. 22 School Board meeting, Soler said the average daily attendance from Sept. 9-21, the first weeks of the district’s return to in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, wasn’t anything to be proud of.

The average daily attendance for high school students during that span was 82.5%, while the district’s elementary and middle school’s average daily attendance rates were 86%.

Except for medical reasons or quarantining, most students should be attending school in-person, Soler said in a message directed at parents during the meeting.

“Our doors are open,” he said. “If you need help, reach out to us. If there’s a reason why your kids are not coming to school, let us know.”

Soler said the district still needs to have “meaningful contact” and some form of instructions to take attendance for students under quarantine.

Soler added that the district would continue to engage a deeper conversation about absenteeism, even examining attendance of high school students period by period to see if they’re leaving school at some point in the day.

Reached Thursday, Soler said the average daily attendance rates hadn’t changed much since Sept. 21, fluctuating 1% or 2%, since the time of his presentation.

Meanwhile, Friday was the 20th day of school, which is viewed as a benchmark for withdrawing students who haven’t shown up at school all year.

“Those could be kids who moved to other communities or out of state,” he said. “Our hope is the numbers improve once we start digging through our data.”

In June, district officials said more than half of Schenectady High School students missed 10% or more of school during the third quarter of 2020-21, and about 45% of students in first through eighth grades missed 10% or more of the school days at the same third quarter mark.

At that time, district officials marked the attendance data as a flashing red light when they presented the School Board the district’s third quarterly report.

The chronic absentee measure, or missing 18 or more days of school over the length of the school year, has long underscored a significant challenge in the district and was selected as one of a few key measures the school board regularly tracks.

Absentee levels were deemed a major hurdle to improving other student outcomes — such as reading and math proficiency and ultimately course completion and graduation — prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but had only been exacerbated last school year.

The state comptroller report in June 2020 said about 18% of students in the state’s public schools were considered chronically absent for the school year that ended June 2018.

Reporter Brian Lee can be reached at 518-419-9766 or [email protected]

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