Painesville Schools superintendent reports 'tremendous increase' in attendance

Jan. 17—The Painesville City Schools District's student attendance rate increased in the first half of this school year while it worked to better combat chronic absenteeism.

The district reported 3,821 fewer absences and 290 fewer students who were chronically absent compared to the first half of the 2022-23 school year, said Superintendent Josh Englehart. It notched a 2.25 percent increase to the student attendance rate and an 11.28 percent decrease in the chronic absenteeism rate.

He called the attendance rate "a tremendous increase" and "great news" at the Jan. 8 school board meeting.

"We are extremely grateful for the family response to the call to action to improve in this area, and the effort has truly been collaborative," Englehart later said. "Our approach now is to be certain that we don't 'take our foot off of the gas.' "

"We will be continuing with our process of timely communication with families and working together to solve problems when they arise," he added. "Each individual school will be working to keep messaging, celebrations and recognitions fresh and meaningful."

Englehart said that the district has "very, very concentrated efforts around improving attendance this year." Those efforts include a "more sensitive" threshold of contacting families after a few days of absence.

The district's schools have also used newsletter messages and hallway displays showing attendance in different homerooms, he said. Students made attendance posters, some of which have been featured on the district's Facebook page.

"Our staff, at the building level, has been doing a ton of work in terms of celebrations and incentives," Englehart said. "They're working hard to make those family contacts whenever we see patterns develop. There's just a lot of really hard, coordinated work that's going on around attendance."

"It's no one thing, but it's a lot of contributing factors, because it's about creating a climate of attendance," he added later. "It's about creating a value around attendance. That takes everybody."

Englehart said that the district will work "to engage students and to foster strong, positive relationships with them."

"While this happens naturally for many of our students, the vision is to get every student connected, so we need to be purposeful in this effort," he added. "We know that feelings of belonging and connectedness are essential to a positive and productive school experience, which in turn is critical to school attendance."

The new numbers come months after Englehart called attendance a "crisis" at a September school board meeting. He said that addressing attendance was the district's "top priority."

The district had an intention of "systemically implementing a multi-tiered system of supports," Englehart said at the time. These tiers would include "intentional efforts to connect with kids," reaching out to families about chronic absences and bringing together parents and staff members to address the root causes behind a student's absenteeism.

A step to implement and measure the new attendance framework was included in the new strategic plan that the board approved in June. The district and HOLA Ohio also held an Oct. 4 dinner to discuss attendance.

HOLA Executive Director Veronica Dahlberg proposed the creation of a "Four Star Committee" at that meeting. She said that the group could bring parents together to address attendance and work on improving its state report card rating of two out of five stars.

Ohio Department of Education and Workforce records state that 38.8 percent of district students were chronically absent in the 2022-23 school year, which was lower than the previous two school years but higher than pre-pandemic levels.

The statewide chronic absenteeism rate was 26.6 percent in 2022-23, the ODEW records added. It defined chronic absence as missing 10 percent of the school year or more.

Englehart added that absence levels had increased throughout Ohio since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, though Painesville City's numbers last year were higher than 92 percent of districts in the state.

While discussing the improvements last semester, he said that the district will continue to work to reduce chronic absenteeism numbers.

"While we are very pleased with this improvement, nearly 30 percent of our students are still chronically absent, and many more are at risk of becoming chronically absent," Englehart added. "It is not as if we have solved our attendance problem just yet. We still have a lot of work to do."