PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Hundreds of Providence public school teachers were absent at least a tenth of last school year, according to new data obtained Wednesday by Target 12.
The Providence Public School Department released numbers from the 2018-19 school year, showing about 500 teachers were “chronically absent,” meaning they missed at least 18 of the 180 school days last year.
Target 12 requested the data from the school department last month under the Access to Public Records Act.
The numbers arrive in the wake of a scathing Johns Hopkins report released in June, which was part of the impetus for R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green’s plan to take over the school district this fall.
“The numbers in Providence are alarming, and the final turnaround plan for the district will absolutely include a strategy to improve attendance for both students and teachers,” Infante-Green said Wednesday.
The Hopkins researchers chronicled anecdotal stories of high levels of teacher absences, which the newly released numbers confirm.
According to the data, 100 of the chronically absent teachers missed at least 50 days last year. Thirty teachers missed at least 100 days, and six teachers were only in school for eight of the 180 school days.
The chronically absent teachers represent 22% of the more than 2,000 teachers in Providence schools, based on a comparison with separate data compiled by the R.I. Department of Education.
The numbers released by the school department cite different reasons for being marked absent, including sick days, personal days, suspensions and professional development days. But it does not separate out maternity leaves or long-term illnesses, which are counted as sick days.
Target 12 compared the number of absent teachers per school to the most recently available state data on each school’s total number of teachers. The analysis found E-Cubed Academy in the Wanskuck neighborhood had the highest percentage of chronically absent teachers last year at 39%.
The rest of the top 10 schools were Pleasant View Elementary (34% chronically absent), Dr. Jorge Alvarez High (32%), Providence Career and Technical Academy (31%), Frank D. Spaziano Elementary Annex (30%), George J. West Elementary (29%), DelSesto Middle (29%), Nathan Bishop Middle (29%), Anthony Carnevale Elementary (29%) and Times 2 Academy (28%).
Click on the map below to see how many teachers in your local school were chronically absent last year.
Infante-Green has said one way she plans to address the problem is by disclosing attendance numbers to parents online.
“Teacher attendance is a huge concern for me, not just in Providence but statewide,” Infante-Green said Wednesday. “We need schools and districts to monitor these numbers closely because when large numbers of students and teachers are absent, it gives us important information on the culture of the school and whether or not it is a productive, positive learning environment.”
Maribeth Calabro, president of the Providence Teachers Union, pointed out that there are many legitimate reasons for absences such as bereavement, maternity leave and professional development that she believes should have been removed from the data.
But she also acknowledged that some teachers may take advantage of the 15 sick days allowed under the union’s contract, and said it was incumbent on the administration to document and discipline those who do.
Calabro said she also reminds teachers not to abuse their sick days.
“Sick days are for being sick,” Calabro said. “They’re not for getting your nails done, they’re not for starting your vacation early.”
The Hopkins report detailed a shortage of substitute teachers to fill in for those absent teachers. Interim Providence Superintendent Fran Gallo told WPRI 12 last week the district has a shortage of both teachers and substitutes heading into the new school year.
A school department spokesperson said there are 71 certified long-term subs who are part of the union in the substitute pool, along with 105 retirees who serve as substitutes and 210 per diem, non-union subs.
The state released teacher absentee data for every school district after the 2017-18 school year, as part of their plan under the Obama administration’s Every Student Succeed Act. The high numbers of chronically absent teachers drew strong criticism from local leaders, and Mayor Jorge Elorza called it a “disturbing trend.”
“It is clear that our teachers must be present and ready to teach in order for our students to succeed,” Elorza said Wednesday. “Instilling a culture of accountability within our schools is a critical piece of providing every student a quality education that prepares them to achieve in the classroom and beyond. We expect the turnaround process to prioritize solutions to this issue.”