North Salem Teachers Association implores district to help address attendance problems


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The North Salem Teachers Association is urging North Salem Central School District administrators and the Board of Education to address persistent attendance issues at the Middle School/High School. Jim Savarese, president of the NSTA, delivered a prepared statement from union members during public comment at last Wednesday evening’s Board of Education meeting.

“Over the last few years we’ve had innumerable discussions with various administrators–and amongst ourselves–attempting to more consistently enforce our District’s attendance policy,” Savarese began. “Specifically, the focus has been making sure students are held accountable when they have unexcused absences and/or are consistently late to classes. We were encouraged to hear that a feature of our attendance system this year was that the system would automatically generate an email and a text message at 4:00 pm each day to the families of students who were marked absent or tardy unexcused in the system. Despite early promise, it seems that the impact has been fleeting.”

The Association’s statement acknowledged the role that teachers play in enforcing attendance policies, but said, “despite our efforts and the countless hours that [Assistant Principal] Dr. Murphy dedicates to this aspect of her job, there seems to be an unacceptably low level of accountability for attendance.”

In an email sent to MSHS faculty on November 9, Dr. Murphy shared that in a typical 5-day week, between 20 - 25 students are marked “absent no reason” for periods 1 and 2.

No. of students marked “Absent No Reason” (avg. 5-day week):

  • Homeroom: 200
  • Period 1: 20-25
  • Period 2: 20-22
  • Periods 3 through 9: 10-15

Data courtesy of North Salem Teachers Association

“Higher numbers in Period 1 and 2 likely account for consistent late arrivals to school,” Savarese said. At the Middle /High School, period 1 runs from 7:28 a.m. to 8:08 a.m., followed by homeroom (8:13-8:18 a.m.). Period 2 runs from 8:22-9:02 a.m.

Research by North Carolina State University found that earlier high school start times can have significant adverse consequences for students, including increased rates of tardiness and absenteeism. The North Salem Central School District had previously formed a committee to consider a later start time for the Middle/High School but the results of that work have not yet been shared with the community.

The problem of absenteeism isn’t limited to North Salem. Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization that covers education, reported in October “alarms are going off nationwide about absenteeism.” The pandemic was a major driver of increased rates of absenteeism, with some school districts in major metro areas reporting that up to half of their students were considered chronically absent (missing 10% or more of the school year) in the past year. Nationally, Chalkbeat reported that “1 in 5 students was chronically absent during the first full pandemic school year.”

“The impact of inconsistent attendance on academic success is profound,” Savarese told the Board of Ed last week. “Our community expects and deserves–and we strive to provide–the best possible education to the students of North Salem. But no amount of extra help can make up for the staggering amount of missed class time that we’re seeing.”

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