Astoria schools see improvement in attendance

A campaign to reduce chronic absenteeism appears to be paying off.

The Astoria School District saw chronic absenteeism drop by more than 8 percent in the first year of its Strive for Five attendance campaign.

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing more than 10 days of school in a year. Strive for Five challenged students to not miss more than five days, an untracked aspirational goal.

More than one-quarter of Astoria students were chronically absent in 2016-17, compared to less than 17.7 percent this past school year. Nearly 20 percent of Oregon students were chronically absent in 2016-17.

John Jacob Astor Elementary School recorded the biggest drop, going from more than one-quarter of students chronically absent in 2016-17 to 13.6 percent last school year, the lowest among the district’s four campuses. Kate Gohr, principal at Astor, said parents are starting to understand the importance of kindergarten and how it isn’t the same as when they were in school.

“I still have many kids — to me, many — who are missing 30 days, 33 days,” Gohr said. “That is so many days, and most of them are academically at-risk.”

More then 14 percent of kindergartners were still chronically absent.

Melissa Linder, the school district’s curriculum director, said the district should focus more on kindergarten attendance because of the correlation with graduation.

Superintendent Craig Hoppes said the school district has also found a clear correlation between kindergarten attendance, assessment scores and reading skills at third grade. Reading at grade level by third grade correlates heavily with future academic success.

There’s still a lot the district can do to improve, Hoppes said. Astoria High School, where more than 28 percent of students were chronically absent in 2016-17, still recorded more than one-quarter of students missing more than 10 days a year. Astoria Middle School was at 17.1 percent, and Lewis and Clark Elementary at 14.6 percent.

“At the elementary level, it’s an adult concern, a parent concern,” he said. “At the middle school, it could be both. At the high school, it’s more of a kid concern.”

Lowering absenteeism is a lengthy process, Hoppes said, and the school district’s goal is to have each school under 10 percent of students chronically absent.

The Astoria School Board on Wednesday also approved a $20 million operating budget, including nearly $11.7 million for construction, $7.3 million in student supports and $700,000 in reserve.

The budget accounts for a 1.5 wage increase, two more contract days and improved benefits for teachers and administrators.

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