Buffalo Public Schools combat high absenteeism

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It's hard to alleviate the crisis in Buffalo schools if students just don't show up.

Another school year is underway, but already teachers are noticing empty seats in their classrooms, like Riverside High School teacher Marc Bruno, who spoke up at Wednesday night's school board meeting.

"I had 84 students absent for the 170 that I have," he said, referring to a particular day this week.

Chronic absences have long been a problem in Buffalo Public schools.

It's one thing the administration and teachers actually agree on.

Both want parents to step up.

"Teachers really have a point. We expect parents to make sure they're children come to school every day, it's a parental obligation," said associate superintendent Will Keresztes

Last year, in grades pre-k through eight, 68 percent percent of students were considered at-risk or higher based on their number of absences.

Specifically, pre-k and kindergarten students missed the most school, with nearly 17 percent of them missing a fifth or more of the school year.

"Kids are learning the foundation that they need to be successful learners," Keresztes said about the importance of attending those early grades.

In the high schools, the number of high risk students was 75 percent, and half of that number also missing a fifth of more of the year.

It was so bad in grades 9-12, more students fell under severe absences than did kids who were considered to be in school an adequate amount of time.

Bruno say the numbers are worse than the public reports.

"Those are students who signed in at some part of the day, so, I mean if you came in half way through the day and signed in at the office, you're counted as being present," he said.

That means the student is marked as present even if he or she spent the day wandering the halls, so long as the student is signed in.

That, among others, is the biggest reason Bruno thinks schools like Riverside and Bennett have been marked as "priority" or failing schools by New York State.

"It's not the administration, it's not the teachers, for the most part. It's high absenteeism, lack of a value in education," Bruno said.

So where are we at this year?

A new attendance report out Friday shows September and October attendance is up from last year.

This school year, only 41 percent of elementary students are considered at risk or higher, and only 56 percent of high school students fall in those high-absence categories.

"We're encouraged by the fact that there's more satisfactory attendance, and that there's less severe/chronic absence at this point, but again, it's only November, we've got a long way to June," Keresztes said.

As far as incentives go to get kids in school and to stay in school, teachers and officials have tried a lot, including that all elementary schools now offer breakfast in addition to lunch.

The consensus is that they want Buffalo parents to have more of voice in the schools' partnerships with families and for those parents to be more involved in their kids' education.


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