CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is starting to see the number of students absent from schools decrease.
This comes after the first few years of the COVID-19 pandemic the district saw its highest numbers of students absent from the classroom.
After revealing student performance scores in September, the district revealed, in part, that it would focus on attendance to increase its student achievement.
"Attendance is really big here with us," Felisa Simpson, Blythe Elementary School's principal, said. "And so students are loving to come to school each day. If they're in the seats, we're going to get them what they need."
At Blythe Elementary School attendance is a part of the school’s long-term plans to both maintain and improve students’ achievement scores.
Like many CMS schools after 2020, Blythe also saw a drop in its overall state letter grade compared to pre-pandemic levels. It's worked to increase its performance grade score, but it's seen multiple years of academic growth. Although in 2022 it fell short of reaching expected growth.
Simpson said it's their priority to have students in the classroom every day.
Student Absenteeism climbed to its worst numbers during the pandemic not only at CMS but nationally.
"Student attendance is critical and chronic absenteeism has increased," Miguel Cardona, the United States Secretary of Education said. "
State data shows last school year North Carolina’s chronic absenteeism rate was 31% that’s double what it was in 2018. This means thousands of North Carolina students missed 10% or more of school days.
The Biden Administration is finding ways to help keep students in school with grant money.
"We have our Full-Service Community School Grant, which went from $75 million to $150 million," Miguel Cardona, the United States Secretary of Education, said. "In two years, we doubled it, because family, full-service community schools, have additional dollars to have family school liaisons, to engage parents more meaningfully, to make sure that some of those chronic absenteeism strategies are working."
Why some students are not attending school can vary.
"They can be hungry, it could be that they need a dentist and they're having tooth pain, or are there the translators for their families," Cardona said.
CMS Superintendent Crystal Hill has been clear the district will enforce its attendance policy.
The attendance policy states that if a student has 10 unexcused absences, parents could face criminal prosecution and a complaint could be filed with the juvenile court. They could also be referred to social services.
Hill has been adamant that would only come in dire circumstances, but not before intervention.
Intervention includes first finding out why students are missing school, how the district can help, and official communication going to parents.
In addition, the community is helping to incentivize students to come to school with groups like the non-profit Communities in Schools Charlotte Mecklenburg, Bank of America and the Charlotte Hornets.