Dayton Public Schools reintroduced busing for high school students this fall, with a temporary system through September, then special “limited service” RTA routes since then. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
Photo: Chris Stewart
Photo: Chris Stewart

Dayton’s school attendance push gets off to slow start

Dayton Public Schools’ push to increase student attendance is off to a slower start than the district hoped, with overall attendance up 0.21% through the first 61 school days at 91.63%, according to data through Nov. 8.

The Dayton Daily News Path Forward series seeks solutions to major community problems. We analyzed student attendance data because Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli in August cited research that attendance is “a major factor in whether or not a student achieves.”

AUGUST: DPS launches new student attendance campaign

For the past three years, DPS has ranked in the bottom 10 school districts in the state in student attendance and the bottom five districts in performance on state tests.

“We are trending about the same (in attendance). We have not changed significantly,” Associate Superintendent Shelia Burton told the school board last week. “The goal was to have an increase of 1 to 2 percentage points each year, but you can see that we’re pretty steady in terms of our average daily attendance for August, September and October.”

Of the district’s 25 regular schools, the attendance rate is up at 13 schools and down at 11 schools. Calculating the change at the 25th school, Roosevelt, is complicated as it merged the student bodies of two schools from 2018-19.

DPS officials this fall brought back high school busing, at a cost of $4.1 million this year and $3.2 million per year after that, hoping that would increase attendance at some of the schools that had the lowest numbers. But results have been mixed.

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Attendance is up compared to last year at Dunbar (by 3.08%, the largest increase in the district) and at Belmont (by 1.45%), But attendance is down at Thurgood Marshall (by 4.96%, worst change in the district) and roughly flat at Ponitz, Stivers and Meadowdale, with changes of less than 0.75%.

“I don’t have any sense why that is,” Lolli said. “I think we need to have someone explore that at the individual school level. Our principals don’t have the time to individually look at their number of absences and really (break down) that information. They don’t have time to figure out what the root cause of those absences is.”

A chart shared by Burton showed the district’s long-term goal is 95% attendance. So far this year, the highest single-day average was 93.4%. In the first eight weeks of the year, there were only 1-2 days below 90%. But in the past month, there have been at least five days below 90%.

And the district’s overall numbers are now likely lower than in the Nov. 8 report. On Nov. 12, which had both bad weather and an early dismissal to accommodate the funeral procession of slain Detective Jorge Del Rio, DPS student attendance cratered to 69.1%. There has been no other day with a districtwide average below 87% this year.

Lolli said one person is being hired next month to manage clerical staff and run the attendance campaign. She also said a grant-funded community outreach position is being created at about a dozen schools, and she hopes part of that job description will be learning root causes for absenteeism.

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Burton said 25% of DPS students have been chronically absent this year — missing 10% of school days or more. The Nov. 8 report showed that number at 22%, and Burton said the problem was worst among ninth-graders.

“So what’s the next barrier? Is it your clothing? Are students working?” Lolli asked. “Are they taking care of little ones? Are they not engaged in school, so they don’t feel like they need to come? Are their teachers absent? You saw our teacher absence rate. If my teacher’s absent, why should I come?”

Burton did not share a teacher attendance percentage. But she showed the number of teacher work days where a substitute was requested due to teacher training or other absence. From Aug. 12 through Oct. 31, there were 4,433 requests, which comes to about 80 per day, lower than the per-day requests in spring 2019.

Teachers union President David Romick said he has not seen percentage attendance data for DPS teachers this year, but added the union continues to advocate the district’s Be Present campaign.

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At this month’s DPS Youth Town Hall, multiple students expressed a desire for more clubs and activities. Ponitz student E’Mariah Combs said the shortage of extracurriculars contributes to students skipping school or even considering dropping out.

Lolli said the district is working on that issue, with new DPS director of outreach and student activities Angie Brown already making progress. Lolli said 17 new clubs and groups are in place at individual schools, ranging from quilting and student councils to chess and robotics. Schools are also recognizing students who have excellent attendance with T-shirts, ice cream parties and sports tickets.

“We hope to see an uptick,” Lolli said. “It took Cleveland, what, five years to start to see some of the chronic absenteeism be reduced? It’s going to take us getting our feet wet into this.”

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