Middlesex County News

NB Public Schools task force takes on chronic absenteeism

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Students arrive for class at Lincoln Elementary in New Brunswick. Credits: New Brunswick Public Schools
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NEW BRUNSWICK – Being absent for just two days each month means a student will miss 10 percent of the entire school year – enough to negatively impact that student’s academic performance.

It’s sobering information, and a clear demonstration that chronically absent students are at a tremendous educational disadvantage, one from which many of them will never recover. And, it’s why New Brunswick Public Schools has initiated a district-wide program to address head-on the issue of students missing school.

The Chronic Absenteeism Task Force is focused on the crucial, academic need for students from Pre-K to high school to attend class on a consistent, daily basis. The group has held three meetings, beginning in January, and participants – who joined the task force based on an open invitation extended by the school district – include students, parents, teachers, staff, and administrators.

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“Everyone who’s a member of this task force has learned a great deal – beginning with our focus on the specific, unique needs of New Brunswick’s students and their families,” explains Dr. Aubrey Johnson, superintendent, New Brunswick Public Schools. “We’ve already analyzed academic and attendance data at the grade, school, and district levels, while also reviewing statewide information. Like many other important issues, there’s a lot to consider – and, there are no easy answers.”

Initial research conducted by the task force, which is functioning as an ongoing initiative, indicates that chronic absenteeism in New Brunswick’s schools is most prevalent at both ends of the age spectrum – in Pre-K and at the high school. Of note, neither gender, ethnicity, nor English language proficiency have been shown to have significant impact on absenteeism rates.

Following its initial three meetings, the task force – overseen by Keira Scussa, the district’s assistant superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction – is focused on three areas of specific need, families, students and school, and community. Detailed action plans are currently being prepared related to each of these groups. When these are finalized, they’ll be combined into a single, comprehensive, district-wide action plan for the 2018-19 school year.

“The task force represents a district-wide commitment to addressing an important issue, and we’ve gotten off to an excellent start,” Scussa says. “The action plan will be invaluable for the coming school year, but it can’t exist in a vacuum. We also need to review and possibly update attendance policies and facilitate the further education of students’ families.  As a district, we’ll do what’s necessary to ensure our students are in school each day.”

To provide as many New Brunswick families as possible details on the task force’s progress, regular updates and new findings are being shared via the school district’s social media channels.

About New Brunswick Public Schools: The New Brunswick, NJ public school district consists of two high schools (New Brunswick High School and Health Sciences Technology High School), a middle school (New Brunswick Middle School) and nine elementary schools (Lincoln, Lincoln Annex, Livingston, Lord Stirling, McKinley, Redshaw, Roosevelt, Paul Robeson Community School for the Arts, and Woodrow Wilson schools). The New Brunswick Public Schools offer a comprehensive educational program for students in grades pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade and serve more than 10,000 students.

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