By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Taken at face value, it’s easy to dismiss chronic absenteeism as a problem confined to school systems that should be dealt with by parents, students and educators.
But Josh Carter, an assistant principal at Science Hill High School, said a high percentage of students missing more than 10 percent of the school year has the potential to create a drag on our entire region. Carter organized a summit at the Millennium Center last Tuesday that drew more than 90 representatives from city government, community and governmental agencies, healthcare providers and the private sector to examine the scope of the problem and look to find some solutions.
“One of the reasons we’re here today with members of the community is to try to figure out what some of those barriers are, and as a community, see how we can overcome those,” Carter said.
Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock was among those present for the event, and she echoed Carter’s assertion that chronic absenteeism can have far-reaching negative effects. For example, failure to show up for school on a regular basis can create a bad habit that will follow students into their adult lives.
“Every employer wants employees that will show up,” Brock said. “We’re hearing from a lot of employers that our young people aren’t learning those soft skills to the degree they’d like. This conference today really plays into that.
“Any business from outside the area that comes here looks at those kind of things before they make their decision. The available workforce and the quality of the workforce is a very, very important factor.”
Carter said students who miss 10 percent of the school year or more (18 days) are classified as being chronically absent, and data shows those students don’t perform as well as students who are present more often.
According to data presented by Science Hill principal Todd Barnett, 19.3 percent of students at Science Hill were chronically absent last year. Seniors who made 19 or less on the ACT missed an average of 31.26 school days, and the students who were classified as chronically absent scored an average of four points lower than students who missed less than 10 percent of the school year due to absence.
Attendees had the opportunity to began talking about some solutions to the problem during breakout sessions. Michael Marion, Executive Director of a 25-year-old organization called Rise Up, said the problem is multifaceted and can be as unique as every student who struggles to make it to school regularly.
But according to Marion, the key to solving that problem is to start early.
“It takes a community to raise a child, moreso than ever in these times,” Marion said. “You have to recognize it early. A kid doesn’t start missing school in the ninth grade. It starts earlier than that. Sometimes it’s easily fixable, but you have to see it.”