This blog post was written in 2019, prior to the pandemic disruptions that led to a new round of increased absenteeism. However, it does show how Haverhill can make progress in addressing school issues with strong school leadership and community support.
Chronic absenteeism is falling in Haverhill Public Schools, and it is falling faster than in other districts. The evidence is just in for the 2018-19 school year. On September 12, 2019 the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) posted attendance data for Massachusetts school districts. Twelve of seventeen Haverhill schools showed reductions in the percent of students absent 10% or more of school days in 2018-19 compared to the previous school year. Haverhill showed improvement on all five DESE attendance measures, even after adjusting for the inclusion of Silver Hill school in the district for 2018-19. Haverhill showed a larger reduction in chronic absences than the average of benchmark districts and than the state average. Moreover the reductions appeared across all types of students (all, economically disadvantaged, English learner, high needs, students with disabilities), and across all racial ethnic groups (except Asian when had the lowest chronic absence rate).
Overall, the results show improvement toward but not yet to benchmark levels. This progress is no accident. In the past year the district made a concerted effort to reduce chronic absences. Work included broad efforts, such as the Attendance Matters “School Every Day” campaign, as well as more targeted efforts at the school level. Community groups such as the Haverhill Education Coalition and Haverhill Promise are continuing to focus attention on attendance as a key to reading at grade level and academic success. This is an area where Haverhill can continue to make progress to meet and even beat benchmark levels for attendance. Such progress will require continued efforts by the school district, engagement of student families, and community support.