From the Editor’s Desk: There’s no quick fix button on this

Some problems don’t have an immediate fix. You can’t just press a button and hit reset. Instead, it takes time, possibly years, to repair the damage done. And that’s the situation we find ourselves in, when it comes to schools and chronic absenteeism. 

On the surface, the numbers don’t look great. As Prince Edward Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson told supervisors on Tuesday, 21% of elementary students, 18% of middle schoolers and 23% of high school students in Prince Edward are chronically absent. They’re missing classes, not picking up concepts and generally falling behind. You can look at those numbers and cringe, especially when you consider that 23%, almost one fourth of the student population at Prince Edward High, have missed significant periods of class time this year. 

But I’m here to applaud, not to condemn. I’m here to spotlight the hard work of teachers, assistants, coaches and administrators at all three schools in the county. Why? Because I remember what the numbers were last year and the year before that. 

Last year, 30.15% of Prince Edward High students were out at least 10% of classes. Now that’s at 23%, a 7% drop in less than a year. Pre-pandemic, it hovered around 19%. And while I’m not saying those numbers are good, you have to applaud successful efforts to almost get back to pre-pandemic numbers. And then look at Prince Edward Middle School, where last year, 30.56% of students were chronically absent. This year? The number is all the way down to 18%. Principal Shelly Clark-Reed and her team need to be praised for that. I can’t stress enough both how rare it is to improve so quickly and the effort it takes to make that happen. Finally, Prince Edward Elementary sits at 21%, down from 29.55% last year. 

Again, none of these schools are where they would prefer to be, as 10% is considered “good” when it comes to chronic absenteeism levels. But it’s impossible to ignore the effort that it’s taken to get to this point. 

But now that we’re here, my question is what will it take to get us the rest of the way? Prince Edward and other school districts have literally tried everything, every type of gift, bonus or other reward. They’ve also gone the other way and gotten truancy courts involved. They’ve tried the carrot, the stick, the rock and even added some paper for effect. 

So for this part, I’m speaking to parents of Prince Edward students. If your kids are chronically absent, what needs to happen to fix that? Is there something the school can do? Is it something the town or county can help with? Or is it something else entirely? I’m asking you to email me at Brian.Carlton@FarmvilleHerald.com and let me know how we can help the district get the rest of the way on this. No names will be shared, you’re not telling me this so I can broadcast your situation. I’d like to hear your stories and understand the situations. Even if it’s something as simple as not setting an alarm, zero judgment here. 

But I would like to understand the why, so if there’s a way, we can cut those numbers down. If we can keep these absence numbers dropping, we might be surprised what other numbers start climbing at the schools. 

BRIAN CARLTON is the editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia, LLC. He can be reached at Brian.Carlton@FarmvilleHerald.com.

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