Teacher absenteeism near highest in RI

100 teachers missed 18 or more days during 2018-19 school year

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Students can’t be expected to learn anything in school unless they attend class. And teachers aren’t teaching class unless they show up at school.

It’s that simple, so it’s no wonder that Superintendent Phil Thornton is making a big deal out of the Rhode Island Department of Education report that breaks down student absenteeism by school, showing the number of chronically absent students – those who missed 10 percent of the 180 days of class, or 18 days – during the 2018-19 academic year.

Chronic teacher absenteeism for the same year – 18 days or more out of class – is also shown by school. The report likewise looks at the level of chronic absenteeism for teacher assistants, principals and administrators.

Oakland Beach School, with 16.4 percent, had the highest level of chronic student absenteeism among elementary schools for 2018-19. Norwood was the best at 7.6 percent. Student absenteeism ran higher in secondary schools, with Winman at 17.2 percent, Vets at 16.9 percent, Toll Gate at 25.9 and Pilgrim 29.9.

The elementary school with the highest teacher absenteeism was Wyman at 24.4 percent. Teacher absenteeism was lowest at Holliman School at 2 percent. Toll Gate was the highest secondary school with 15.3 percent of teachers chronically absent. The secondary school with the lowest teacher absenteeism was Pilgrim at 11.9 percent.

It’s the teacher absenteeism that Thornton zeroed in on during an interview Thursday, noting that in some elementary schools the level of chronic teacher absenteeism is three times that of the students.

Thornton couldn’t identify a single cause for teacher absenteeism that puts Warwick second to only Johnston. Some seemingly off-the-wall reasons teachers suggested included the elimination of regular night custodians, an action that was taken to balance the budget, squirrels in the walls at Pilgrim and the lack of convenient parking. These issues were downplayed by Thornton and Warwick Teachers Union President Darlene Netcoh.

At the Tuesday School Committee meeting, Netcoh called parking at Toll Gate “atrocious…but I don’t agree it is an excuse.”

“I never cast aspersions on those who say they are sick,” she said.

Thornton holds up two pages ranking all the schools in the state by the level of absenteeism.

“Warwick is predominantly on the first page, and that’s the most chronically absent page in Rhode Island. That’s the whole state, not just the subgroup. We have to look at this. We can’t say it’s squirrels in the wall or parking is an issue…They were raised, but we don’t have any unique circumstance that I can think of that would make us uniquely prone to more sickness,” he said.

The Warwick contract gives teachers 90 sick days, or half the school year.

The superintendent notes that no other district offers 90 days and that typically the number is between 15 and 18 days with a provision allowing teacher to “bank” certain numbers of unused sick days from year to year. The Warwick contract does not have a banking provision.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Netcoh discounted the 90 sick days as a driving factor. Thornton didn’t push it either at the meeting or during the interview, although it is likely to be raised during contract negotiations this year. The current contract expires this coming August.

In a telephone interview Monday, School Committee Chair Karen Bachus said she was “surprised and concerned” by the report.

She didn’t identify the 90 paid sick days as a principal driver of the high level of absenteeism. She noted that because of changes in the pension system, teachers aren’t retiring until they are older and that may be having an impact on absenteeism.

“A lot have put in 35 to 40 years,” she said.

She also pointed to morale in some schools and thought it important to address school culture.

Bachus thought a confidential survey of teachers could be helpful in identifying drivers of absenteeism and measures to address it. Similarly, she suggested a survey of parents to understand what is driving student absenteeism.

So, what’s the purpose of placing the spotlight on absenteeism, especially now?

“I wanted this to start the discussion, not to assign blame, but as any organization or any business, if you have a large segment of your workforce chronically absent, it’s going to affect your performance. Our performance on any measure is in the bottom-third in Rhode Island. That’s just not one reason, either. We’re currently looking at the curricula we’re offering. I put in place a new curriculum for math, K-8, we did science, right? We’re working on high school math now. Along with the curriculum discussions and teacher training, that’s a piece, the most important thing is having the regular teacher in front of the students,” he said.

Thornton is quick to point out many teachers can be counted on to show up day after day. Of the 865 teachers, 312 – or 36 percent – were absent five days or less during the 2018-19 school year. Those considered chronically absent with 18 days or more numbered 100, or 11.6 percent.

Teacher assistants, who number 208, were no better. Thirty-three, or 15.8 percent, were absent five days or less, while 38, or 18.2 percent, were chronically absent.

Bolstering the argument that 90 sick days is not the driving factor for teacher absences, teacher assistants come under the Warwick Independent School Employees, or WISE, contract. Those who work 35 hours a week have 15 paid sick days and are allowed to bank up to 115 days.

Of the department’s 16 administrators, seven, or 43.7 percent, were absent five days or less and two were chronically absent. Of the 29 school principals, 28 were absent five days or less and none were chronically absent.

Thornton is hopeful of having a dialogue on how to maximize student achievement.

“What are the obstacles getting in the way of student success, and this [absenteeism] is one of them. The most important thing you can have is that the teacher is in front of the students on a regular basis. I really want to get past the excuse making, and really have an honest conversation at what’s driving attendance problem,” he said.

Comments

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justanidiot

teachers are overworked and underpaid. they need all the time off they can get. same goes for the students.

Tuesday, January 21
Thecaptain

Yet we wonder why products of the Warwick School system such as Donna Travis have failed the community. Of 14,000 school districts in the United States, the Warwick teachers rank in the top 2% of pay and benefits, yet they produce the bottom rankings in product and have the most absenteeism. No other trade (other than the WFD) in the private sector has this type of absenteeism.

Yet the teachers continue to brainwash the students and the parents that they are over worked and under paid while they continue to produce sub standard product, even after the 13.46 million dollar raise in the last contract.

What is remarkable is that at 7:30 pm there is not 100 angry parents posting on this article. That in itself is prima facia evidence as to how anesthetized the population of this city is. Hence, they continue to elect long term unsuccessful public servants like Avedisian, Travis, and many others.

Hint to the Oakland Beach residents - Your community is the lowest on the socioeconomic ladder of financial stability in the city. Look who your representative is. 8th grade drop out, political leach, political prostitute. Think about it.

Tuesday, January 21
that guy

I'm SHOCKED that the captain manage to take a swipe at the WFD...

Tuesday, January 21
John Simoneau

Well said Thecaptain. On top of that, Councilwoman Donna Travis has been found guilty of numerous violations in the past few years by both the RI Board of Elections, AND The RI Ethics Commission. She is to stupid, and to corrupt, to be allowed to continue as the representative from Ward Six on the Warwick City Council. If she can't be impeached (LOL), then she should not be voted for ever again. The only people she helps in this City are the public employee unions. Like the recent WFD contract where she was one of the 5 renegade Council members to schedule a Friday night special meeting, just before Christmas, to approve their contract. She, with Howe, Mccallister, Sinapi, and McElroy couldn't wait two more weeks until regular meeting. She, and these other 4 losers on the Council, then 2 weeks later rammed through this disaster of a WFD Contract after hearing many known problems with it. Oh, I forgot, she also was able to got her daughter a job at the Warwick Public Library with no experience.

********** REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER *********

Tuesday, January 21
Cooley79

This is the same recycled article that is submitted every year. And I will bring up again that Warwick has no short or long term disability coverage or plan. Teachers do not receive TDI. During the 2018-2019 school year, I am sure that many teachers had babies and I personally know another 3 who were out for a good part of the year receiving cancer treatments. They may have missed 50-60 days each dealing with these issues (including childbirth). These days are included in the bogus statistics that Dr. Phil dusts off each year. These teachers were not chronically absent.. but they are lumped into these statistics. Teachers in this district pay a formula fee on the day they give birth and every missed day of their maternity leave. They use those 90 days that Dr. Phil likes to talk about so much. Bottom line ... this article is inaccurate and do not even think about having a baby or god forbid getting cancer if you are a Warwick teacher.. you will look like you are a chronically absent jerk. What a joke.

Wednesday, January 22
justanidiot

teachers would comment more here but they would have to find a substitute to waste time for them while they had someone read the article to them, had someone explain it to them, and have a student write a comment that they could use here. plus complain about all the work they are doing and take a sabbatical.

Wednesday, January 22
Cat

I would like to know if there is a way to categorize why someone is absent. Was someone out for 6 weeks on maternity leave, medical leave or some other longstanding issue? Or is it someone who decides on Monday morning they just don't want to go in to work today. There is a huge difference between the two.

I do not like to make a snap decisions without knowing more facts. You can't fix the problem if you don't know the true cause of the problem first.

If this is chronic and long term, it is far better to find a way to resolve the issue now rather than see the same type of article and comments again next year.

Wednesday, January 22
allent

Public sector unions...50 years of crappy service at inflated prices... aren't they great?

Wednesday, January 22
whatever

I'm so tired of hearing that teachers don't get TDI. Teachers could have it if they asked for it. They don't want it because they would have to pay 100% of the cost.

That is what employees in the private sector pay. Teachers...stop the misinformation.

Wednesday, January 22
Happy

I have to give Thornton credit, he is able to hold up a paper and identify a problem. By doing this he expects everyone to fall in line and stop taking time out of work.

Message to Phil and the SC, it doesn't work that way and it's not going to get any better! It has become a "Workplace Right".

The first thing he must do is to identify the abuse, throw out the pregnancies and serious health issues. Then attack the most flagrant violators, those with an excessive amount of single day absences, aka, the low hanging fruit. You will quickly find out that these violators are using sick time as additional vacation time, couldn't get out of bed in the morning so sleeping in was a better option! Then beg the union to allow you to take action against them, joke!

In todays day and age no one gets 90 paid sick days, period, never mind being allowed to abuse them. Oh wait, Warwick does!

Excuse me, I'm feeling sick, headache coming on so I have to go home and back to bed.

Wednesday, January 22
Happy

I have to give Thornton credit, he is able to hold up a paper and identify a problem. By doing this he expects everyone to fall in line and stop taking time out of work.

Message to Phil and the SC, it doesn't work that way and it's not going to get any better! It has become a "Workplace Right".

The first thing he must do is to identify the abuse, throw out the pregnancies and serious health issues. Then attack the most flagrant violators, those with an excessive amount of single day absences, aka, the low hanging fruit. You will quickly find out that these violators are using sick time as additional vacation time, couldn't get out of bed in the morning so sleeping in was a better option! Then beg the union to allow you to take action against them, joke!

In todays day and age no one gets 90 paid sick days, period, never mind being allowed to abuse them. Oh wait, Warwick does!

Excuse me, I'm feeling sick, headache coming on so I have to go home and back to bed.

Wednesday, January 22
warwick10

Or someone who decides on Monday morning they just don't want to go to work today because there are squirrels in the wall or no parking, Cat! LOL!

Wednesday, January 22
John Stark

For quite some time now, a broad and entrenched culture of underachievement has taken hold of the Warwick school department. It extends from severe academic deficiencies, through athletic defeatism, to teacher absenteeism. In what other industry do those who insist on being called "professionals" fail to show up for work in the numbers cited above due to an apparent "...lack of convenient parking"? This is not hyperbole. Consider the following data from Tollgate High School:

22% of the student body is now deemed to be educationally handicapped and in need of individualized instruction. What is in the water in that part of the city!? 75.64% of Tollgate students, or three-quarters, do not meet expectations in Math. Such deplorable outcomes clearly result in rampant medical disease amongst faculty, as 1 in 6 called in sick at least 18 times last year. Perhaps the state Health Department needs to get involved, since chronic absenteeism plagues not only faculty but students, as well, as almost 1 in 3 students was absent for over 10% of the school year. This is all staggering, and Ms. Bachus' "surprise and concern" is a 'surprise' only those who have taken up residence on Mars in recent years.

But cheer up. Only about three miles to the south lies East Greenwich High School with it's strikingly similar climate, and they get their drinking water from the same Scituate Reservoir. Hence, it's curious that only 8.6% of students at EG are in need of individualized instruction, and only 24% are not meeting expectations in Math. There must be something at EG that also makes inhabitants immune from disease, as a tiny 1.6% of students were absent for 10% of the last school year and only 4.4% of teachers called in sick at least 18 times. Maybe it's the balanced diets from all those nice restaurants on Main Street that keep the teachers so much healthier than those in Warwick. And attention Warwick Taxpayer: EG spends about 16% less per student than Warwick.

To summarize, lots of kids aren't showing up at Tollgate. For those who DO show up, there's a reasonable chance they'll be supervised by a substitute teacher in at least one class, resulting in a strong likelihood that they will not meet measurable academic expectations. This all comes as a "surprise" and "concern" to those elected to oversee this disaster, and "dispersions" are "never" cast by a teachers' union (an entity that has long outlived its usefulness) comically demanding to be referred to as "professionals". If the Warwick public schools were truly an investment (as we're always lectured), you would make a fortune shorting the position.

I do commend Supt. Thornton for the following statement: "...if you have a large segment of your workforce chronically absent, it’s going to affect your performance." So either start holding your workforce accountable, or call the Dept. of Health. Something is very, very wrong.

Wednesday, January 22
FastFred WARD 4

I just order 1 gross of crying towels. Your not going to change anything if I only felt better. take more days off lots of sick kids out there. and more comeing into the city .

Thursday, January 23
Leader?

When Phil Thornton says,

'We’re currently looking at the curricula we’re offering. I put in place a new curriculum for math, K-8, we did science, right? We’re working on high school math now.'

He means teachers are doing the work. Don't believe for a second Phil Thornton knows anything about what's going on in Warwick's classroom.

How does this "Leader" inspire and motivate his teachers to work harder? Put an article out that criticizes the teachers based on surface data that has not been combed through for outliers and collecting errors.

This is either just a negotiating tactic (shameless) or he's just a trash superintendent. I lean towards the latter.

Thursday, January 23
Cat

You can't blame the entire derailment of the educational system in Warwick on Phil Thornton. He came in 2015. You can't sell the line that in 5 years he destroyed the entire thing. Finger pointing gets you no where. Maybe that is exactly how you like it?

Thursday, January 23
Ben Dover

Old rule of retail, "You break it, you own it." We have a broken school system and many must pay for breaking it You know how I know besides the obvious? Consolidation of school districts was first discussed 60 years ago and look where we are. That's progress, Rhode Island style. Perhaps a massive class action lawsuit is the only way to force the change needed? I know this, be prepared to lose another generation of kids to mediocrity and incompetence. Warwick is burning and the so called leaders are eating calamari.

Thursday, January 23
Patient Man

Teachers in other districts get sick & pregnant too. Nonsense to say that has anything to do with RI's high absenteeism.

Friday, January 24
phillipdrummond

Thornton is not the root cause of the problems but he is incapable of fixing them because he spends more time trying to devise ways to get the kids who left the school system back instead of showing leadership and putting together a plan of action that will help the kids that are here. Until that happens most of Warwick's best and brightest will continue to leave

Friday, January 24
David Testa

The presentation at the SC meeting made it clear that the numbers presented did not include anyone out on long-term leave (such as maternity leave) or absent under FMLA provisions - they were not factored into those figures. Unfortunately, the article doesn't make that clear. I think the data clearly shows that this is an issue. Virtually every school system has old buildings - Cranston's building stock is pretty similar to ours so that's can't be a viable excuse, IMO. I just can't accept that there's something peculiar about our building stock or the overall age of our staff that makes us so different from most other districts in the state. As far as the 90 day issue is concerned, while it may or may not be the root cause, it has to be considered a factor. To summarily rule it out it as a factor would be disingenuous. Personally, I'm a fan of 'X' number of sick days with some banking provisions and TDI. It's neat, clean, and much more in line with what the private sector does.

David Testa

Friday, January 24
davebarry

Warwick teachers make state workers look like workaholics. Nice achievement.

Saturday, January 25
Robert

Students should be absent 100%. Why be brainwashed?

Sunday, January 26