ACPS focusing on staff and student absenteeism

Alexandria City Public Schools wants to get student and staff absenteeism under control.

A quarter of Latino students at ACPS were chronically absent last school year, and so were 16% of Black students and 22% of economically disadvantaged students, according to data presented to the School Board at a recent work session.

“There’s a lot of discussion around the suspensions of black males, black females, Hispanic male students, (and) chronic absenteeism for Hispanic and black students,” interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt told the School Board on Thursday night (September 8).

There were also 145 daily staff absences across the school system during the 2021-2022 school year.

“We are nothing without our staff,” ACPS Chief Accountability Officer Clinton Page told the Board in a work session on August 25. “The newer area of focus for this year is honing in on staff wellness, and that was arrived at both from the numerical data we see around attendance and indicators in the climate survey, but our qualitative data and from knowing and seeing first-hand the amount of stress, the amount of angst that our staff has been put through just within the “pandemic” years.”

Both issues were added to the school board’s areas of focus for the school year. The school system is also tasked with implementing a staff wellness program and targeted and enhanced staff recruitment.

ACPS staff absenteeism. (Via ACPS)

Last year, there were 153 Black students suspended last school year, and 112 Latino students — versus 23 white student suspensions, one Asian student and seven students characterized as “Other.”

Of the student suspensions, 259 students were economically disadvantaged, while just 36 students not economically disadvantaged were suspended. There were 91 female suspensions and 205 male suspensions.

The school system will also continue developing its half hour of daily Social and Emotional Learning (SEAL), in which all students must participate. As part of the SEAL program, teachers are tasked with evaluating students with the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment, a social and emotional tool that assesses “self awareness, self-management, personal responsibility, decision-making, goal-oriented behavior, social awareness, relationship skills and optimistic thinking.”

ACPS is also contending with school safety issues — although they are not listed as a Board priority.

“Please know that safety has always been a priority and will always be our priority,” Kay-Wyatt told the Board Thursday night. “We do that work every day anyway.”

Fifty-eight percent of students felt safe at school last year, down from 75% in the 2020-2021 school year, according to the 2021-2022 ACPS Equity Climate Survey. The survey also reported that 66% of students think teachers care about them, which is down 13% from the previous year.