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Project U-Turn launches attendance awareness campaign

by thenotebook on Oct 30 2013 Posted in Latest news
Photo: Isaac Riddle

Lori Shorr, the mayor's chief education officer, and Superintendent William Hite at the announcement for Project U-Turn's attendance awareness campaign. 

by Isaac Riddle

At a school like Frankford High School, where one out of four students is absent on any given day, just getting students through the doors is a constant struggle.

According to recent Pennsylvania Department of Education attendance rates, in the 2011-12 school year, more than 11,500 students were absent daily from District schools.

On Wednesday, members of Project U-Turn, a city-based initiative focused on the dropout crisis, announced the launch of a new campaign that seeks to improve Philadelphia’s school attendance rate. 

“The benefits of school attendance extend far beyond academic gains,” said Superintendent William Hite, in a statement. “It means students are engaged in school, developing a sense of persistence that will serve them well past their school years. It means lower crime rates and higher graduation rates, which helps to strengthen local economies.”

Project U-Turn, which is run by the Philadelphia Youth Network and a confederation of partners that includes the District and the city, will encourage school attendance through public service announcements, social media, local partnerships, and community outreach.

As the District struggles through a painful funding crisis and staffing shortage, concerns have grown that poor attendance will only rise. Crowded classrooms have multiplied, and teachers have been laid off, along with guidance counselors and other support staff who would otherwise address the reasons that students fail to attend school.

“Every young person deserves a chance at an education,” said Nicole Vega, a former high school dropout and mother of three who has since enrolled at the E3 Center at Congreso, a career and educational counseling program designed for out-of-school and vulnerable youth.

“When I got back to school, I felt comfortable again,” said Vega.

On Monday, when the leveling process ended, the District announced that 139 teachers had been reassigned to new schools. Many schools with fewer students than expected lost teachers. In fact, the District estimated that 4,000 fewer students are attending District schools than had been projected. The District says it doesn't know where all those students have landed.

How many of those lost students can be tied to the closing of 24 schools this summer, however, is known. According to District spokesperson Deirdre Darragh, officials have data on where each of those students have gone. She said that when the schools were closed, students were given options of which school to enroll in the fall, letters were sent home to parents, and parents submitted their preferences.

Hite, who did not speak at the announcement but answered questions afterward, said he believes more students than expected transferred to city charter schools this fall. 

Hite also confirmed that of the $45 million released earlier this month by Gov. Corbett, $10 million will be put aside for charter schools, which have larger than expected enrollments. With the high cost of sending students to charters, the District has been battling several charter operators in an attempt to place caps on the schools’ enrollments.

Student enrollment does not now determine the amount of funding the District receives from the state. According to Lori Shorr, the mayor’s chief education officer, the District and the city are pushing for a transparent funding formula that would use student enrollment as a key component in determining state funding.

Isaac Riddle is an intern at the Notebook.


Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the District did not know where students from schools that closed in June landed and that those students had been asked where they intended to enroll.

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Comments (7)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/30/2013 - 16:19.

How in the world are charters enrolling more students unless they are going over their cap? Of course more students enrolled in charters - Hite/Shore/Nutter/SRC have let public schools decline.

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on Wed, 10/30/2013 - 21:52.

You are correct, of course, and it's happening in all urban areas where sellouts of their own people, are crawling around, offering their services to the highest bidder. Does it surprise anybody past the age of 10 that these rascals don't try to sell this cancer in the more affluent suburbs ?? Sooner or later, ACT 46 will need to be challenged and the more aggressive strategy of striking is the way to proceed. We're just putting off the inevitable and time isn't on our side.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/30/2013 - 17:47.

My understanding is the SDP has been losing students for the past years to students moving out of the city, dropping out of school, and charters. So the drop in enrollment should be no different then other years.

Submitted by reformer (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 05:07.

who are the moral opposites of "sellouts of their own people"? well, they would be "credits to their race." that was a high compliment in the segregated south.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 14:39.

A "campaign" will not bring kids back to school. How about addressing the issues of poverty, hunger, and homelessness?

Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on Thu, 10/31/2013 - 15:01.

Good point

Submitted by concerned teacher (not verified) on Wed, 11/06/2013 - 12:22.

While we are on the subject of students and lack of attendance could the notebook please shine a very bright light on what can only be called a reprehensible situation. I am talking about the fact that the district of Philadelphia ends the grading period for the 4th marking period an average of 10 school days before the last day of school.
This is the most blatant disregard for education and a complete victimization of low SES individuals.
Let me make this clear teachers must turn in final grades an average of 10 days before the last student day of school. The only students that show up are a handful of kids that are either not allowed to stay home(they are the few that are choosing not to party at a friends house) or prefer to be inside the school than at their house. Even our best students stop coming after the 4th mp period grades are in- and who the heck can blame them!!!!
In a time when we know we have to sacrifice so much instructional time for state mandated tests how could this district keep shortchanging their customers. I think the answer lies in the customers themselves. These are people who unlike their suburban counterparts do not demand more for their children.
PLEASE PARENTS send emails to Dr. Hite demanding that the end of the marking period is closely tied (maybe 1 day) to the last day of school. Honestly, I think many parents are unaware and their kids use this to their advantage to spend the last week or so on an extended party at one of the many houses that are unsupervised BECAUSE THE PARENTS ARE WORKING AND ASSUMING THEIR KIDS ARE IN SCHOOL!!!!!!!!!!
Many of my colleagues are totally disgusted about this practice, it is demoralizing and it sends a clear message to students THEIR EDUCATION IS NOT IMPORTANT AND THEIR DISTRICT DOES NOT CARE ABOUT THEM.
Please do not let any of the leadership in the district make an excuse as to why they HAVE TO DO IT THIS WAY. There are so many alternatives that might involve not getting a hard copy of a students report card into the hands of every student on the last day of school (remember attendance is about 25% or less on that day anyway) BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT PARENTS CANNOT ACCESS GRADES. IN FACT THE DISTRICT HAS A FANTASTIC ONLINE GRADING SYSTEM THAT ALL EMPLOYEES ARE REQUIRED TO USE. EVERY PARENT IN THE DISTRICT SHOULD BE ABLE TO CHECK THEIR CHILD'S GRADE AT ANY POINT IN THE SCHOOL YEAR. Some would say but not all parents have computers-true but every public library (of which the city is full of)has many computers to give all people access.


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