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Montclair High School has seen a slight improvement in attendance and a drop in chronic absenteeism, but school officials say more work needs to be done. COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair High School is seeing a slight improvement in attendance, with fewer chronically absent students, and a slightly increased daily attendance rate.

Chronically absent refers to the portion of students missing 10 percent or more of the school days.

The high school has seen a 32 percent drop in the number of chronically absent students over the past year, from 306 students in 2017-2018 to 207 in 2018-2019. In 2016-2017, there were 294 students who were chronically absent, said MHS Principal Anthony Grosso.

Even with the drop, 207 students who are missing 10 percent of their school year is not something the district is pleased with, Grosso said. “That’s something we’re definitely not proud of. That is something we need to work on.”

This year, the high school has begun offering Twilight Program, a credit recovery and attendance recovery program for students who have missed a significant number of days of school, or who have failed a class for the first or second marking period.

The program is also intended to help reduce the number of students who need to take summer school classes, Grosso said.

A student who participates in the program in order to make up for lost attendance must have between 17 and 30 unexcused absences on their record for a particular academic course in a full year. The program, once successfully completed will allow them to have 15 of those absences taken off their record for that course. For students who are attending Twilight for credit recovery, they must have a failing grade for either the first or second quarter. The program, once completed, will allow them to replace a failing grade with a 70.

The previous credit recovery program was not found to be working well enough to meet students’ needs, Grosso said. The school put that program on hold and instituted the Twilight Program. The Twilight Program can be applied to courses in English, science, math, social studies and physical education, and students can take two courses per Twilight cycle. It is being offered in two cycles from Feb. 26 to March 26, and from April 21 to May 21.

In October 2018, Montclair was ordered by the New Jersey Department of Education to come up with a corrective action plan to address its chronic absenteeism rate.

Under New Jersey state law, individual schools or school districts are required to submit a corrective action plan for chronic absenteeism if 10 percent or more of their students are deemed to be chronically absent.

A student is considered to be chronically absent if they miss 18 or more days of school: 10 percent of the 180 days that a school is required to be in session for students.

During the 2016-2017 school year, Montclair High School had a chronic absenteeism rate of 14 percent, which was the highest rate among Montclair’s 11 schools. The following year, in June 2018, the state passed the law requiring corrective action plans for chronic absenteeism.

In Montclair, students and parents have cited transportation problems, most notably the lack of district-provided busing to and from Montclair’s South End, as an obstacle to MHS students being able to get to school on time.

Grosso said the school’s average daily attendance rate has risen. The attendance has gone from 93.6 in 2016-2017, to 93.5 in 2017-2018, to 94.1 for 2018-2019. “We don’t want to be in the 94 percentile range. We need to look at the 98 to 99 percentile range,” Grosso said, with 100 percent attendance being the ideal.

The school has also seen a 30 percent drop in infractions, which Grosso credited to the district’s ongoing restorative justice program: 28 from September 2019 to February 2020, down from 40 in September 2018 through February 2019.

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