PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence’s superintendent says the attendance rates of students and staff is the single biggest challenge the school district is facing this year, according to a Target 12 survey of superintendents.

Dr. Javier Montañez told 12 News that making sure students show up to school every day is not an easy undertaking, and he can’t do it alone.

“It takes a village to make sure that we meet the needs of our students so they can be successful,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about.”

Data from the Providence Public School District (PPSD) shows almost 60% of students throughout the district were considered “chronically absent.” It means students missed 10% or more of school days.

In the 2021-22 school year there was only a slight decrease, down to 57% of chronic absentees within the district.

Montañez says there are several strategies in place to make sure that happens in Providence schools this year.

“We want to make sure we want to go early enough, fast enough and equitable enough for everyone to make sure that we meet the students where they are,” he said.

Montañez says he’s trying to give students “every opportunity to be successful,” including before and after school programs, and even classes on the weekends.

“Some of these strategies is making sure that we are starting off with an attendance team,” he said.

Data from the PPSD showed as of Aug. 1, more than 24,000 connections — phone calls, in-person home visits, or a mix of both — were made between teams and students.

A few weeks prior to the first day of school, PPSD coordinator of student support Stephen Grace, along with a group of volunteers, canvassed the neighborhood around DelSesto Middle School on Springfield Street.

The group was clad in PPSD shirts with two slogans: N.B.A, or the Never Been Absent Club, and A.P. for All, or Always Present.

“The fact that we are saying that we care and that we want you here, we have to show it,” he added. “There’s something that we do in classrooms in schools, which is why we want to meet the students where they’re at.”

Grace said that can be with their families or friends, or at places like community centers, churches, or parks.

This team wasn’t knocking on students’ doors, but making contact if they saw kids or community members out and about, to let them know who they were, and their goals for the district.

Yannick Medina, a culture coordinator for the district, says some of the reasons he’s heard children aren’t going to school include a lack of resources.

“I think sometimes they rely too much on what they’ve heard about school or somebody else’s experience in school, or maybe it wasn’t as favorable as you would have thought, and it kind of scares them away,” Medina said.

Medina said he and others who canvass the neighborhoods on a regular basis learned that leads to a gap between the school and the community, something he hopes at least one connection made can help to change.

“Part of the reason why we push so hard, as community specialists and culture coordinators, is to close that gap and make the community an extension of the school and vice versa, make the school an extension of your community,” he said.

Dr. Montañez said that new this year, the district has hired two liaisons to make sure the attendance teams are meeting bi-weekly and quarterly, and that they report on if their strategies are working, and what they can do to improve.

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