OSWEGO — Administrators and family engagement staff at Port City schools are planning an amendment to the district’s approach to attendance.
The newly proposed strategy aims to address chronic absenteeism among students and further integrate parents and legal guardians into attendance regularity for students.
The Oswego City School District (OCSD) is one of several districts in the state that has recorded instances of chronic absenteeism, defined by the state Education Department (NYSED) as a student missing at least 10 percent of enrolled school days or 18 days in OCSD’s case.
In the amended code of conduct, presented to the public at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting and detailed on page 34 of the code of conduct, district Director of Student Services Robert Duffy noted poor attendance at the elementary school level as an early indicator that children could struggle with critical subjects like reading. For middle school and high school students, he added, poor attendance is a leading measure of dropping out of school.
The district’s goal, Duffy said, is to create a comprehensive policy that families can follow. The policy would address matters of maintaining an accurate record of attendance in school buildings, as well as using data to monitor attendance trends, and ultimately develop strategies to improve attendance for all students. Building administrators would review attendance records at least twice a month according to the revised code of conduct.
Duffy told Board members they strive to create positive habits that can help students understand the importance of showing up every day.
“We want to ensure regular attendance of all students,” Duffy said, noting integrating parents into that conversation is also a priority. “We are as responsible as they are for having their children here every day.”
One of the potential strategies to get parents and legal guardians involved is to conduct in-person visits with them.
“By virtue of including parents, we are creating a transparent process, we are asking for their input,” said OCSD Family Engagement Coordinator Elizabeth Eck. “There are parents who may have had negative interactions with the district, and we want to change that and let them know we want parents to be part of their child’s attendance. We can use things like home visits as a way to meet parents where they are and connect with them.”
Parents and legal guardians will receive written notice of their student’s absence after 10 days, per the code of conduct. Eck said it’s important to establish clear goals for education within families.
“We can connect with (parents) by asking them that million dollar question: ‘what do you want for your children? What do you hope for?,’” she said. “By being able to break down those goals, then the school will partner with the parents as well and ask them to work together toward these goals.”
The code of conduct now also reflects a list of what counts as unexcused and excused absences, which was criticized by some board members for being narrow in scope.
“We don’t want to approach attendance in a punitive way, we want to look holistically at the family,” said Board President
Heather DelConte, questioning the unexcused absence policy. “As I look at that list, I am seeing things that research shows are actually beneficial for children, like family vacation.”
DelConte said the list overlooks families with schedules that do not align with the academic calendar.
“We need to be more considerate about these things that are important for the development of children,” she said.
Minetto Elementary School Principal Jennifer Sullivan said the state does not distinguish between excused and unexcused absences when looking at school aid disbursement.
Ultimately, the goal of including those lists was to inform parents of what would count as an absence for the student.
The state aid’s formula takes into account school attendance when factoring in how much aid is to be allocated to the different districts across New York. The formula is subject to much scrutiny among state representatives, who have called it inconsistent in the past.
“The most important thing is: when kids are home to learn how we can help them get back to school or meet the demands the classroom has placed on them,” Sullivan said.
Board member James McKenzie argued for administrators having more agency when defining what constitutes an unexcused absence.
“The more logical approach is to define what is excused and leave it open to administrators to use their good judgment to identify what is unexcused,” he said.
Board members and school administrators agreed to having definitions for excused and unexcused absences instead of a list of examples, to be presented along with any other new amendments to the code of conduct at the next board meeting on Sept. 21.