NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk teachers are above average in Connecticut in terms of being absent, Norwalk Public Schools Chief Talent Officer Cherese Chery said Tuesday.
Chery presented a “Norwalk Teacher Absenteeism Study” to the Board of Education, saying that it was “commissioned as a priority implementation step of the Strategic Operating Plan to respond to several years of a sub cost reflected by an increase (sic) level of teacher absence.”
Those are Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski’s words, she said, after reading from a PowerPoint presentation.
Administrators thought that the substitute budget might have something to do with teacher attendance, but, “I will tell you that when I went through the study the substitute account is not reflective of teacher absence,” she said.
The data was collected through AESOP, a computer program that teachers use to report themselves absent and input the need for a substitute, she said.
“In the past, we didn’t do a great job with AESOP. … I wouldn’t even suggest going back and looking at AESOP beyond last year,” said Chery, who recently announced that she is leaving Norwalk.
Chery began work here in July 2016; her last day is Feb. 28.
“Over the last two school years we have been looking at the data, putting it in a place where we can report data correctly, use data correctly, and actually use it to create these reports for you,” she said to the Board. “I don’t know if we were always in a place where they were correct, so that’s what we have been doing for you.”
“The purpose was not to just see what teachers were doing… we actually wanted to incentivize teachers to come to work,” she said.
For the purposes of the study, administrators decided to consider a teacher “frequently absent” if the teacher has missed more than 10 days of school, she said, calling that 5 percent of the school year and pointing out that 10 days is used as a standard elsewhere.
She also pointed out that Connecticut law mandates that teachers be given 15 sick days.
“I believe we should not penalize teachers for using what we are giving to them,” she said, suggesting that 16 sick days be considered “chronic absenteeism.”
The data was culled to eliminate teachers who were out for more than 10 days at one time, she said.
The PowerPoint said:
- “The State of Connecticut reported absences at an average of 9.6 days in 2015-2016
- “Norwalk teachers reported absences at an average of 10.3 days in 2016- 2017”
The AESOP data also showed that teachers were absent more often on Fridays during 2016-2017, with 2,409 total absences on Fridays and 1,670 absences on Mondays, the next highest number.
May had more absences than other months, with 1,224 comparing to the next highest total, 1,116 for March.
“I am not sure what is happening,” Chery said.
The PowerPoint shows that Ponus Ridge Middle School teachers were absent more often in 2016-17 than their peers, with average absences reported as:
- Ponus Ridge 15.38
- Nathan Hale 11.5
- Roton 10.98
- West Rocks 9.65
“We need to look at this data year after year to see what the trends are, see if things are changing as we implement policies,” Chery said.
“If we were to define chronically absent, we really only have 12 percent of our teachers in that category,” Chery said. “I am not here to define anything yet but we do have allow 15 days. So we have a number of teachers falling in the category of 10-15 days absent, 26 percent. So again, we have to really think about what our culture is and what we want for the district. I will tell you that there are 5 to 6 percent of teachers with perfect attendance, so I think that’s something to be celebrated.”
Chery outlined strategies to encourage better attendance, including an exploration of team models. Team members would be responsible for each other in the event of an absence, she said.
There are also ongoing wellness programs, she said, mentioning that Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon has asked for an expanded flu shot program.
Board of Education Vice Chairman Erik Anderson, running Tuesday’s meeting, called Chery’s work a “fantastic breakdown” of data, “a beginning step” and a “necessary step.”
“It’s really helpful to have numbers in front of us,” Board member Julie Corbett said.
If a student is absent for 10 days in the school year and their teacher is also absent 10 days, “that’s a student missing a whole month of school,” and over 12 years of schooling an entire year’s worth of instruction lost, she said.
“This is deeply troubling,” Corbett said. “I am glad to see there are some suggestions already in play and I fully support many of them.”
Substitutes rarely follow lesson plans, said Board member Bruce Kimmel, a former elementary school teacher.
“The situation from the perspective of the student is bad,” he said.
Board member Heidi Keyes called it “very compelling information.”
“The wellness engagement I think is huge,” she said. “… I think it’s great to have incentives.”
“I do not want this to be perceived in any way as an attack as it might appear to be,” Anderson said. “From my perspective, this is material that I want to use, along with my fellow Board members, to improve the lives of our teachers, our students, administrators to make it work better. The numbers are glaring but that doesn’t mean anyone is necessarily at fault. I want to make this as positive a turnaround as possible and also address any potential issues that are occurring.”
“I hope this does not come across as an attack,” Chery said, repeating her enthusiasm for the wellness programs.
Yordon did not speak at the meeting. She later sent an email to NancyOnNorwalk saying:
“Norwalk teachers are dedicated to their students and school communities. We dedicate our lives and careers to student success. We are committed to being in school with our students to achieve this success.
“The Board presentation this evening suggested an increase in absent teachers. However, Connecticut performance and profile reports track teacher absence rates. These state reports use the district’s own data and show a very stable rate of teacher absence since 2012-2013, at an average 9.9 -10.3 days of absence for every year since. So, I’m puzzled by the suggestion that there is an increase in teacher absence.”
Data on the state’s website shows:
- 2012-13: Norwalk average 10 days
- 2013-14: Norwalk average 9.9 days; state average 9.3
- 2014-15: Norwalk average 10 days; state average 9.4
- 2015-16: Norwalk average 10 days; state average 9.4
Yordon said, “I support the implementation of enlightened policies and programs to support positive attendance patterns.”