Attendance is improving in Springfield schools

Jan. 14, 2016 | G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – Attendance is one the rise in the city’s school, although Superintendent Daniel Warwick said, “It’s not where we want to be.”

Warwick discussed the attendance and truancy report at the Jan. 7 School Committee meeting.

In an interview with Reminder Publications after the meeting, he said six or seven years ago attendance averaged only in the high 80 percent range. Today it is an average of 93.8 percent.

The district saw gains in high school and elementary school attendance with a .5 percent decrease in middle school attendance.

The improvements have been due to a “concerted effort school by school,” Warwick said. There is a system of counseling and interventions to keep students in school, he described, as well as truancy officers who patrol “hot spots” along with correctional officers where student may gather along.

As a long time elementary school principal, Warwick said, “there is no question” there is a link between poor attendance in pre-school and problems in later grades.

“We could see in kindergarten who was going to struggle and who wasn’t,” he added.

A key to the attendance problems is making sure children have access not just to pre-school programs but “quality pre-school,” Warwick added.

Springfield’s issues aren’t unique. “Every urban district is facing the same challenge,” Warwick noted.

In other action at the meeting, the staffs of both the Alfred G. Zanetti Montessori Magnet School and the White Street School were honored.

The Zanetti School was designated as a Title One Distinguished School. Superintendent Daniel Warwick said there were only two schools in the Commonwealth awarded the honor. The National Title I Distinguished Schools Program is a project of the National Title I Association that publicly recognizes schools for their positive educational advances.

According to the organization’s website, schools are selected on the basis on one of two criteria: exceptional student performance for two or more consecutive years or closing the achievement gaps between student groups.

Warwick added that in 2010 the school was named a Level Four school by the state, the second to last academic ranking. In four years, it was judged a Level 1 school.

Principal Tanya Clark credited her staff for the achievement and the school’s chorus sang for the School Committee.

With her staff wearing blue t-shirt heralding their accomplishment, White Street School Principal Kristen Hughes told the School Committee of the challenge of turning the failing school around. The school recently jumped from Level 4 to Level 1 status.

Hughes described the difficulty of telling teachers that what they were doing in the classroom wasn’t working. When she started at the school out of 80 fifth graders only four were proficient in English and math.

She noted the school serves a challenged population with students having the high percentage of incarcerated fathers in the city.

Hughes described her staff as “hardest working group of people” she has known. She added, “Their mission is that every student in the school will succeed.”

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