Three dozen city schools have chronic absenteeism rates exceeding 10-percent, according to a report compiled by the Paterson Education Fund.
36 schools have had 10-percent or more students who missed 18 days or more in 2015-16 academic year, says the report. An absence is defined as being not present in school with or without excuse.
High schools had far higher absenteeism rates than elementary schools. For example, the alternative high school Yes Academy had a chronic absenteeism rate of 84-percent, according to the report. The School of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) at John F. Kennedy High School had the second highest rate of chronic absenteeism at 47-percent.
Two other academies – School of Business, Technology, Marketing, and Finance (BTMF) and School of Architecture and Construction Trades (ACT) — at Kennedy had absenteeism rates above 40-percent. Panther Academy and Garret Morgan had 40-percent and 38-percent chronic absenteeism rates, according to the report based on data the Paterson Public School District reported to the New Jersey Department of Education.
Among elementary schools Strive Academy led the pack with 33-percent and the Edward W. Kilpatrick School following close behind with a 29-percent chronic absenteeism rate. School 12 had the third-place dubious distinction with 25.6-percent.
“Kids who are not in school simply don’t learn,” Rosie Grant, executive director of the Paterson Education Fund, told the school board on Wednesday night. With the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) law, all of these schools with 10-percent or more chronic absenteeism rates will be flagged as underperforming, she said.
“Chronic absenteeism is going to be used against your children if you don’t do something about it,” said Linda Reid, president of the Parent Education Organizing Council of Paterson (PEOC), urging parents to take steps to ensure their children are attending school.
“We’re going to do a full analysis based on this information,” said Terry Corallo, spokeswoman for the Paterson Public Schools on Thursday morning. She raised questions about some of the data in the report.
For example, the report has alarming suspension rates for Garret Morgan Academy and School 3. Garret Morgan Academy had an almost 47-percent and School 3 had an almost 28-percent suspension rate.
Corallo wondered whether the percentage was counting unique students or those who have been suspended multiple times. “It could be five or six students suspended multiple times,” she said. “We know our schools and we know what’s going on. Some of those numbers logically did not make sense. We’re looking at it.”
Grant said the data in the nonprofit’s report was obtained from the state’s school performance report cards. She said this is the data the district reports to the New Jersey Department of Education. The report’s data matches with those on the state’s school report cards, according to a review of dozens of school report cards by the Paterson Times.
Corallo said the district’s chief data officer Jeron Campbell is analyzing the chronic absenteeism report.
“We have to get a better handle on it,” said school board member Jonathan Hodges. “We’ve been hampered by the lack of funding.” He has been a strong advocate for hands on learning at city high schools to keep students interested and willing to attend school.
“I like there to be a lot of project based learning so students are really immersed,” said Hodges. He sees this as one of the solutions to addressing the chronic absenteeism problem plaguing majority of city schools. The report showed data for 50 district schools. It also had data for four local charter schools — two charter schools have 10-percent or higher absenteeism rates.
The district has had remarkable success in reducing chronic absenteeism at School 5, noted Corallo. Sandra Diodonet, who is now an assistant superintendent at the district, reduced absenteeism at the Totowa Avenue school by 76-percent in the 2012-13 school year.
School 5’s chronic absenteeism rate – 14-percent in 2015-16 — has spiked back. “It has to be a consistent effort,” said Grant. “It’s different every time you have a new group of parents.”
Diodonet was the principal of School 5 at the time. The school taught students in K-6. Some of those students, who were there in 2012-13, have moved to Don Bosco Elementary School, which remarkably had a 1.3-percent chronic absenteeism rate in 2015-16, according to the report.
Don Bosco is a large middle school with 610 students. School 11 in the district had the lowest chronic absenteeism rate in 2015-16.
“Why are the children not coming to school? There has to be a reason,” said Reid.