Warwick Public Schools’ rate of chronically absent students has seen a significant decrease over the past couple of years, going from 45% to 30% of students district-wide being absent, …
Warwick Public Schools’ rate of chronically absent students has seen a significant decrease over the past couple of years, going from 45% to 30% of students district-wide being absent, according to data from the Rhode Island Department of Education.
Among schools within the district, Holliman and Cedar Hill Elementary Schools currently have the lowest rates of chronic absenteeism, with only 15.5% and 16.7% of students chronically absent in the 2022-23 school year.
Superintendent Lynn Dambruch attributed Warwick’s shrinking absenteeism rate to incentives within the classroom and greater communication between teachers and parents.
Dambruch also credited Warwick’s teachers, saying that their work making lesson plans that interest and draw students’ attention are crucial for combatting absenteeism. Additionally, she mentioned teams of school staff that work together on helping individual students avoid being chronically absent and improve their performance in school.
“These teams meet once a week, and they look at students who may be struggling academically, struggling with attendance and someone gets assigned from the team,” Dambruch said. “It could be school psychologists or social workers or the principal, just to keep working with the family.
Assistant Superintendent Bill McCaffrey also noted the lessening impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on everyday life as an influence. Warwick’s worst chronic absenteeism numbers- the aforementioned 45%- occurred during the 2021-22 school year.
Dambruch and McCaffrey get data on chronic absenteeism in the district daily through the RIDE Leaderboard.
For dealing with students that are chronically absent, Dambruch said that the school district sends letters to parents when they notice a pattern of chronic absenteeism, with the letters getting more serious should the pattern continue, and truancy officers
“The longer you stay away from attending school, the harder it is to get back in,” Dambruch said.
Dambruch emphasized positive reinforcement, saying that it was key to making sure that students come to school
“If a child has a fear of going to school, anxiety about going to school, then we have supports in place; the social worker can be with that student, we give them strategies,” Dambruch said. “And making sure the schools are welcoming [is important.] We’re doing a lot of programs to make sure students respect each other.”
The strategies, Dambruch said, also help teach students important life skills that they wouldn’t necessarily be tested on, such as collaboration and learning how to overcome fears.
Throughout the past year, Warwick’s
The biggest drop in chronic absenteeism rate in Warwick has occurred at Norwood Elementary School, which dropped from 42% to 19.7% of students chronically absent thus far in the 2023-24 school year. Overall, Greenwood Elementary School has led the way this year with only 13.3% of students being chronically absent.
The next goal for Warwick Public Schools is to get their chronic absenteeism rate below pre-pandemic levels. In 2018-19, that rate sat at 17.6%, and was 17.8% during the 2019-20 school year.
In order to keep their current positive momentum, the district would need to provide even more targeted help to chronically absent students, according to Dambruch. Additionally, one of Dambruch’s goals is to create a video with students that were formerly chronically absent talking about what got them back into school and how they turned themselves around.
“Constantly advertising that attendance is important- you’ll have that at every school committee meeting,” Dambruch said. “And also principals, and teachers as well, really reaching out, monitoring and contacting families.”
Dambruch and McCaffrey acknowledged that catching up to the 2018-19 numbers was “not going to happen overnight,” but seeing such a large decrease in less than two years was a promising sign.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” McCaffrey said. “We’re staying focused on the data, and support all our students.”
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