Metro schools work to reduce chronic absences

There have been attendance issues at Nashville schools. WSMV's Brendan Tierney reports.
Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 5:27 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Keeping kids in the classroom has become a major issue for Metro Schools since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

New data shows nearly one-third of students were chronically absent last year, meaning they missed more than 10% of school days.

“There is no cookie cutter approach to managing or dealing with absenteeism,” Metro Schools attendance director Carol Brown said. The district is trying multiple ways to reduce absences this year, including creating an advisory group of principals.

Warner Elementary School principal Ricki Gibbs is part of the advisory group that’s focused on improving attendance. Being in class every day is important because instruction builds on itself, Gibbs said. When a student is chronically absent, they miss important information and fall behind.

“When students miss school, it’s more of an adult issue than it is a child issue,” Gibbs said. “We really need to have that conversation with parents and the community about the importance of having your child in school every day because a majority of the time 5-year-old’s don’t make the decision to stay home.”

Warner Elementary had more than 40% of its students chronically absent two years ago, but they’ve already had success improving that number through new programs, Gibbs said.

In January, Warner Elementary launched the Warner Exchange that rewards students with points for each day they are in school. At the end of the month, parents can use those points to get free items from a classroom that’s been converted into a small store filled with food and other everyday household items.

“It has things that we know are basic necessities but can hinder a child from coming to school, because their parents are working multiple jobs and having to work extra so they can provide those basic necessities,” Gibbs said. “We say, ‘let’s make this an exchange. You make sure no matter what your child comes to school every day, and we will help provide some of those basic necessities.’”

Metro Schools is looking to expand this program to other buildings across the district in hopes of greatly reducing the number of chronically absent students over the next couple of years.

This school year, Metro Schools has the goal or reducing chronic absenteeism to less than 25% by adding supports to intervene as a student has attendance problems. That includes care calls home, attendance assessments and creating plans to help keep students in school.

Other school systems across Middle Tennessee have also seen an increase in chronic absence issues since the start of the pandemic.

Rutherford County Schools saw an increase from 8.9% in 2019 to 9.5% last school year.

Wilson County Schools went from 10.2% in 2019 to 16.9% last year.

Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools increased from 9.9% in 2019 to 15.3 last school year.