Prince Edward schools create new position to help with absences

Published 6:09 am Friday, October 13, 2023

FARMVILLE – What is the administration at Prince Edward County Public Schools doing about chronic absences? That’s been a question raised repeatedly since the latest statistics were released, showing the district, and most of Virginia as a whole, has an attendance problem. We’ve covered some of the steps taken before. Now the district is creating a new position to help address the problem, something akin to an old-school truancy officer. 

And there is a problem. Today, nearly one in five students in Virginia are missing more than 10% of the school year. Those students are understandably falling behind. Students who are chronically absent are 25% further behind in math and 18% further behind in reading, the state’s latest data shows.

Here in Prince Edward, a total of 29.55% of students attending Prince Edward Elementary were chronically absent for the 2022-23 school year. That means out of 704 students at the school, 208 missed either 10% of classes or higher. At Prince Edward Middle School, 30.56% of students were chronically absent, while the same could be said of 30.15% of Prince Edward High students last year. This is a far cry from the 10-15% reported before the pandemic.  

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Currently in Prince Edward schools, guidance counselors call home when a student becomes chronically absent. But as we said, the district hopes to hire someone whose sole job will be to focus on the issue. 

“We do have a position posted for a student support specialist,” Prince Edward Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson told county supervisors during their Tuesday, Oct. 10 meeting. “That person would work directly under our director of support services. That person would be responsible for making phone calls, for doing court paperwork when someone is not being compliant, making home visits, doing all of that legwork.” 

Prince Edward finds old solution to new problem 

While the name may be different, the concept reflects the truancy officers used in other areas. The only difference is the support specialist won’t have the authority to arrest truant students and bring them to class. 

It’s one of several things the Prince Edward administration is doing to try and fix the problem. In addition, some of the administrative staff is paying a visit to Campbell County Public Schools this week. You see, Campbell County doesn’t have the same problem with absenteeism, it’s at least not as bad. While Prince Edward deals with numbers 30% and higher, in Campbell the numbers are more than 10% lower. At Rustburg High, for example, only 11.29% of students were chronically absent last year. Brookville High’s number was slightly higher, coming to 16.43%. At Rustburg Middle School, the number is 17.85%. And all of the district’s schools are fully accredited with no conditions. 

The goal in sending a group over is to study what Campbell County is doing and see if it can be adapted for Prince Edward. Right now, the district is trying to use a S.O.A.R. (Show up On time All day, Ready to learn) marketing campaign. Under the plan, each of the schools gives incentives to promote daily attendance. Beyond that, staff members will even go out and pick up individual students, if they know a child is home due to lack of a ride. And yet, the problem isn’t getting better. 

Johnson believes the student support specialist can help with that. But first, they have to find someone to hire in the role.