The Watertown Daily Times on chronic absenteeism at rural schools, Aug. 6

Being part of rural communities can present unique challenges to school districts.

Something that administrators wrestle with is chronic absenteeism. It would be helpful for them to know if there are specific trends among students from small communities as opposed to young people from larger urban areas.

The National Center for Rural Education Research Networks, part of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, is looking into this issue. Several school districts in the north country are among the 50 rural districts throughout Ohio and New York participating in this program.

The research initiative was awarded $9,994,246 by the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. Gouverneur, Mexico, Pulaski, Sandy Creek and Thousand Islands are participating.

“Our district is looking to better understand root causes for chronic absenteeism,” Lauren French, superintendent of the Gouverneur Central School District, said in a story published July 30 by the Watertown Daily Times. “We want to address the issues in ways that are appropriate to our district, community specific, based on our needs and resources we are able to offer.”

Partners will pool the information they obtain and see what patterns emerge. This will help researchers identify solutions for these rural districts.

“A goal of the program, currently active in New York and Ohio, is to help districts better understand challenges with rural education and identify, then implement, solutions that will work for students, families and schools,” the story reported. “NCRERN will produce tools for identifying students most at risk for absenteeism and being unprepared for college as well as change management resources designed to guide rural schools in addressing chronic absenteeism, college readiness and college enrollment. Throughout the five years, the center’s member districts will collaborate on shared challenges, learning from each other to guide future work on school improvement. … Applicants were chosen based on alignment between the district’s strategic goals and the work of the center, capacity to utilize data for decision making, commitment to continuous improvement practices and geographic distribution.”

This collaborative effort should yield vital information that can help address common causes of absenteeism among rural school districts. It’s good that these north country districts have become involved. Their participation will assist them in their mission of seeing that their students do not fall behind due to absenteeism issues.

We look forward to reviewing the results of this research project, which can then be shared with other schools in this region. This will ensure that even more administrators will eventually benefit from the program.