BUFFALO, N.Y.- A group of about 400 teachers, administrators, parents and students spent Tuesday at an attendance summit to address the low rate of attendance at Buffalo City Schools.
"We have a serious chronic absence problem in Buffalo Public Schools," said Will Kereszetes, Associate Superintendent. "Improving attendance is kind of the Holy Grail of urban school districts, and we are going to be relentless in our efforts to try new initiatives.
Initiatives that are much-needed: The most recent attendance statistics, released by the Buffalo Public School District at the summit, are disheartening at best.
District-wide attendance for this school year as of November 1, 2011 is as follows:
52.05% of students has shown satisfactory attendance, meaning they have missed less than 5% of school days.
23.33% of students are at risk of chronic absence
16.22% of students are chronically absent
8.4% of students exhibit severe chronic absence, meaning they've missed 20% or more days of school per year.
For years, schools have been reporting the average daily attendance, a method that experts say masks the true problems of chronic truancy.
"We keep thinking that 90% or 95 % attendance is good," said Hedy Chang, a Director of Attendance Works, a national organization devoted to increasing attendance. "Because we think 90 % is an "A", right? It's not. At 90 % average daily attendance you are probably talking a 25% average chronic absence problem at the minimum."
For the past year and a half, school leaders have been working with Chang in an effort to change Buffalo's culture of absence.
In addition to changing how school administrators track absences, efforts include wake-up calls for students who often miss school, hiring teachers to focus on attendance, supporting principals and offering incentives to change what's happening, and forming partnerships with community groups.
"When children are connected to after-school programs, whether they're in the community or in our own schools, it's another incentive to come to school everyday," said Kereszetes.
School officials are focusing on some key groups, like kindergarten and students in 7th through 9th grades.
"You have to being somewhere, we want to get some wins here, and that's what we're looking at this year." said Kereszetes.
The summit also include a panel of educators from New York City, another city that is working to improve attendance rates, and is seeing early success.