Positive Participation: School Department Reports Good Virtual Attendance, Focuses on Those Not Logging In

The vast majority of students in the Everett Public Schools are logging on and participating in this fall’s virtual learning program, Supt. Priya Tahiliani told the School Committee on Monday, but she said all efforts are going towards connecting with the 11 percent of students that aren’t as engaged.

Monday’s attendance figures were the first analysis of the remote learning program this fall – a revamped program over last spring’s emergency effort that wasn’t as successful and was challenging to teachers and students. The numbers reflected the first 12 days of school, and had some bright spots and areas for improvement, said Tahiliani.

For the entire district, 55 percent of students have 100 percent attendance, while another 17 percent had missed only one day. That meant 72 percent of the students were regularly engaged in school online – whether at home or in the e-Learning Centers.

“That means right now we have no attendance issues for 72 percent of our population, which is a good start,” she said. “Another encouraging sign is attendance percentages increased from Day 2 to Day 7 and then again on Day 12. That does not mean we aren’t concerned about the other 11 percent of students that have attended school 59 percent of the time or less. Absolutely not. In fact, the 11 percent is what is driving our attendance outreach efforts across the district.”

Some of the best attendance has been at the elementary and middle school levels, but challenges exist within Everett High School and within vulnerable student populations – particularly English Language Learners (ELL) and low-income students.

While elementary and middle school attendance was above the district average, the high school began the school year below the district average.

However, she said over the last two weeks the attendance at Everett High has been on the upswing – perhaps because some technology problems have been resolved and that outreach specialists have been hitting hard with communications to families with student that aren’t regularly attending.

“One guidance counselor at one school…tried to contact a family five times by phone, 18 times by the classroom Dojo and 12 times by class e-mail,” Tahiliani said. “That is not an isolated example. It’s indicative of what people throughout the district are doing.”

Another adjustment at the high school was adjusting how attendance was taken. While it was only at first period, the district is now looking at first period and then again at 1:30 p.m. Some students were missing the morning, but logging in for all of the remaining day. Tahiliani said if a student attends 50 percent or more of a day’s classes at EHS, they will now be counted present for the daily attendance figures – though they would still be marked absent for individual classroom attendances they missed.

Finally, she said she knows many students are a little down at EHS because they are missing sports, clubs, and social interactions that in-person school brings and which is so important at the high school age.

“Not playing your favorite sport or not being part of a cherished club or organization is no small consideration,” she said. “Nor is missing the daily abundant social interactions that a school environment provides. We do understand teen-agers are adjusting to this too and want them to know we are here to help them.”

One of the worst attendance groups were the ELL students, where only about 40 percent had 100 percent attendance and 60 percent didn’t have attendance issues in total. That left a large portion of about 40 percent that were having trouble and also the only portion of students that logged having no contact at all with the schools since the term began. Low-income students also showed a challenge as well, but not as significantly as ELL students.

E-Learning Centers

Visions of the e-Learning Centers being swarmed with kids for parents needing support has not materialized, but those that need the help are getting it, Tahiliani said.

There are about 59 percent of those invited to the Centers who are utilizing them, and spots are available for those that need them. Last week, 51 student requested to come to a Center and were accepted. The average daily attendance district-wide was about 270 students per day last week, with a dip on Friday, Oct. 2.

One issue with the Centers, however, is there needs to be more staff for the younger kids, and the district has responded by calling back all paraprofessionals to the Centers this week.

“We did identify one concern that demanded immediate action,” she said. “We found we needed more staff to monitor the Centers – particularly for our younger grade students. On Monday, we did call our paraprofessionals to our schools.”

The paraprofessionals will be monitoring the Centers, and they were needed even if the Center population stayed where it is at.

Devens School Opens

The Devens School in-district special education program opened up on Sept. 28 for in-person classes serving the most vulnerable students in the district, and things went very well.

“Because the opening was very positive, we expect more families to choose in person learning due to the success we had in opening that school,” she said.

She thanked Principal Brian Wallace for all of his hard work in getting the school ready, and noted some positives in that students were easily able to transition between classes and teachers were able to easily toggle between in-person and remote learning platforms.

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