Absent Providence teachers could face discipline

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence teachers with high rates of absenteeism that isn’t related to a medical condition could soon face discipline as the city seeks to improve attendance throughout the district, according to Superintendent Chris Maher.

Maher said district administrators have identified employees with the highest absenteeism rates and had “difficult but supportive conversations so those employees could work with management to identify barriers to their attendance.”

He said employees will face “progressive discipline” if their attendance doesn’t improve.

“Teacher chronic absenteeism negatively affects student achievement,” Maher said. “The Providence Public School District, like many Rhode Island school districts, has an unacceptable level of teacher absenteeism in many of its schools, and is taking proactive steps to create a culture of greater accountability and support.”

This district’s progressive discipline policy begins with counseling and follows with reprimands, suspension and termination, a spokesperson for the district said.

In a presentation prepared for the Providence School Board, the district identified eight city schools that had more than 20% of teachers absent at least 18 days during the 2017-18 school year, including Leviton Dual Language (30.1%); Alfred Lima Elementary (27.4%); Reservoir Avenue Elementary (24.6%); West Broadway Middle (22.4%); Roger Williams Middle School (22.1%); George J. West Elementary School (21.8%); Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary (21%); and Nathan Bishop Middle School (20.3%).

The presentation also showed teachers were most likely to be absent on Mondays and Friday last year, a trend that is similar in the private sector. Teachers were least likely to be absent on Tuesdays.

Providence teachers with at least three years on the job are given 15 full-pay sick days a year under their union contract. Teachers with less than three years of experience receieve eight sick days per year. Teachers are allowed to carry over unused sick days from year to year. The contract requires teachers to submit a doctor’s note if they are absent four consecutive days.

Maribeth Calabro, the president of the Providence Teachers Union, acknowledged she doesn’t have a “reason, rationale or excuse for the Monday, Friday spike” that was shown in the district’s presentation, but she said the union “knows the impact that both educator and student chronic absenteeism has on achievement and we need to work with families, the community, the district and our teachers to identify ways to get teachers and students in school everyday”

“My hope is that once we start seeing the real impact of the bond money and infrastructure changes are made to improve the physical plant issues we have we will see improvements in attendance,” Calabro said. “We also need to look at the culture and climate of buildings, discipline, and morale each are also contributing factors to absenteeism.”

In the presentation, the district did not explain why some teachers have high absenteeism rates, although it did say next steps will include setting specific attendance goals and plan for each school, publicly sharing data, and implementing systems to better track attendance. The presentation also suggested progressive discipline is on the table.

The R.I. Department of Education defines chronic absenteeism for both students and teachers as anyone who misses at least 10% of the school year, which equal 18 days. The state now uses attendance data as part of its federally-mandated school rating system.

Teacher attendance data released by the state shows 14 schools had teacher chronic absenteeism rates of at least 20% last school year: eight came from Providence. The others were Central Falls High School (25.4%); Wyman Elementary School in Warwick (25.1%); Marieville Elementary School in North Providence (24.9%); Francis J. Varieur School in Pawtucket (21.9%); Samuel Slater Middle School

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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