CARTER COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The state of Tennessee considers chronic absenteeism a key indicator of success for school systems.
Chronic absenteeism is typically defined as missing 10 percent or more of a school year, which is approximately 18 excused or unexcused absenses a year.
News Channel 11’s Pheben Kassahun learned how some area school systems above the state average are working to improve to get below it.
The school system with the highest number of absences in the 2018-2019 school year was Carter County.
According to the Tennessee Department of Education, these are the numbers in our region:
- Carter County: 23.5%
- Unicoi County: 20%
- Hawkins County: 15%
- Sullivan County: 14%
- Washington County: 13.3%
- Greene County: 8.8%
- Johnson County: 7.9%
The state average was 13.3%.
“Our chronically absent rate is high,” director of student services for Carter County Schools, Danny McClain said.
During the 2018-2019 school year, Carter County Schools ranked highest in our region for students chronically absent, meaning they missed 10 percent or more days of school in a given school year.
“We know that based on these numbers alone, that we have a lot of work to do,” Dr. Jerri Nave, director of federal programs and testing said.
The school system allows up to 6 parent call-ins and are trying to bring it down to two.
“Other school districts do not have a policy like that, so if they do have an allowable number, it’s typically one of even two for an entire year, and sometimes zero,” Dr. Nave said.
Dr. Nave explained the school system needs to be stricter, which prompted them to take the issue to the school board.
“Everybody knows that children are going to get sick. Children get sick in Carter County Schools just like they do in every other district, but the absences, when we look at the data that are making up a large majority of these are not health related,” Dr. Nave said.
Carter County director of student services, Danny McClain, said a new policy will mean that even accumulating excused absences will be considered chronic.
“We do understand that there are sometimes medical reasons that students are not in school. We want to encourage students to be there because nothing takes the place of classroom instruction,” McClain said.
The school district is working on incentives to keep students in the classroom.
“It’s everything from rewards for perfect attendance to competitions between classes or grade levels. It’s just everything from certain types of rewards to just recognition,” Dr. Nave said.
This new policy passed its first reading in September. Its second reading may come up in December. If it passes, the school system will implement the new rule before the start of the next school year.
“One of our schools has a hashtag of “We Showed Up” to help children understand it’s important to show up everyday,” Dr. Nave said as she mentioned Keenbum Elementary and its positive incentives to make kids want to have a high attendance rate.