Putting Education Reform To The Test

Pinellas County Superintendent Disputes State Absentee Figures

Pinellas County Schools

Pinellas County schools superintendent John Stewart.

Pinellas County schools superintendent John Stewart isn’t sure how the state calculates the number of chronic absentees but says getting students to school more often is a priority, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Pinellas County schools ranked first among Florida’s urban school districts for the percentage of students missing at least 21 days of school, according to a StateImpact Florida analysis. Nearly 18 percent of Pinellas students were chronically absent, according to state data.

Those days add up quick — 467,586 days last year, or the equivalent of nearly 2,600 school years.

Stewart disputes that ranking, saying he doesn’t know how other districts report absenteeism. But Stewart wants students in school more often.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say students usually miss school for three reasons: Medical issues; Family social or economic problems; or parents — particularly in elementary school — who don’t realize the importance of attendance.

Pinellas County students gave a number of reasons why they missed school. From the Times story:

Zia Ficocelli said attendance would be better if the classes were held later. The ninth-grader at Dixie Hollins High School said she prefers sleeping in on some mornings and is able to catch up later on the material. Ficocelli said she gets A’s and B’s, so missing classes hasn’t held her back.

Bobby Catterton, an eighth-grader at Tyrone Middle School, said too many rules — like no cellphones — drive many of his friends to skip school.

And Charlika Roney, an 11th-grader at Gibbs High School, said there are too few consequences for students who miss class.

Stewart said he will appoint a committee to study attendance, noting you can’t learn if you aren’t in class.


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