As absentee rates decrease, District still sees room for improvement

Jan 7, 2023

So far during the 2022-23 school year, Wareham School District has seen its absentee rates decrease from last year. 

However, at the School Committee meeting on Thursday, Jan. 5, all three principals said that ensuring students are in school every day is still an uphill battle. 

“This is the year we encourage everyone to be here, each and every day,” said Elementary School Principal Bethany Chandler. 

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the percentage of “chronically absent” students, who missed more than 10% of the school year, shot up from 16.3% in 2019 to 35% in 2022. The District has linked the excessive absences to pandemic learning loss. The District has repeatedly blamed absenteeism and learning loss for last year’s poor MCAS scores.

Chandler was pleased with the Elementary School’s improved attendance numbers.

“In our 81 days of school, our average attendance rate is 92.73%, marking a huge progress from last year,” she said. 

Last year, the attendance average was around 80%, below the desired state average of 95%. 

According to Wareham Middle School Principal Traci Cote, the Middle School’s average attendance rate before December was around 93%. In December, it dropped to 89%.

Cote said that the decrease was largely due to illness during the winter season. 

She did not have any attendance statistics for January 2023, but said that from what she has seen, “It’s been better than December.” 

Wareham High School Principal Scott Palladino said that the High School’s attendance also dipped from 93% to 90% in December.

“When you throw in the holidays, that's when the numbers get down a little bit lower than a traditional school day,” he said.

Both Chandler and Palladino said that social-emotional issues were the main cause of recurring absences. 

“My biggest concern is the social-emotional welfare of all of our families and making sure that our children are following a careful schedule with their families,” Chandler said. 

Chandler explained that due to the recent school bus driver shortage, a large portion of Elementary School students depend on their families for transportation.

“Thanks to our communication [between the three principals] we have guidance counselors that work diligently making phone calls, filing Child Requiring Assistance cases, calling the courts, calling families, meeting the families,” Chandler said. “It’s not just the law, it's that we care.”

Palladino brought up the possibility of reinstating the position of attendance officer if absenteeism persists.  

Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said he submitted an application for Wareham High School to become a part of the statewide Engage Massachusetts program. 

According to D’Andrea, the program’s mission is to “reach out to families of districts with chronic absenteeism and [identify] the academic and social-emotional barriers to assist families in addressing them and getting [students] back to school.” 

D’Andrea is waiting for a response from Engage Massachusetts.