Peoria County Schools Aiming To Boost Attendance, Enrollment
Peoria County school administrators and community leaders are combining efforts to get more kids in the classrooms on a regular basis this fall.
“This is ‘all hands on deck’ to get our kids back in school this year,” Peoria County Regional Superintendent Beth Crider said Thursday at a news conference promoting the “Rebound With Attendance” social media campaign.
Crider said the campaign is a key part of their push to reverse trends of declining enrollment and increasing absenteeism amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “Rebound With Attendance” campaign will feature videos of local basketball coaches and stars, such as Bradley University product Marcellus Sommerville, stressing the need for kids to attend school regularly.
“Last year was really hard on all of us. This year is going to present its own set of challenges,” said Crider. “But one thing remains: Peoria County students need the opportunity to learn, and you must attend today to achieve tomorrow.”
Between the fall of 2019 and the start of last school year, schools in the county saw an enrollment drop off of 944 students. Crider said enrollment dipped again in 2020-21, although the figure is not yet available.
Beyond that, Crider said last year saw an “unprecedented” spike in absences. Trudy Schaffner, the ROE’s director of school support services, said 450 students were referred to the agency's Project Target program that addresses chronic absenteeism.
“Not only is this an increase in the number of referrals, referred to our program, but on average, the students missed more days of school last year than in any other school year,” said Schaffner. “In fact, 60% of the students referred to our program and receiving services missed over 45 days of school.
“That represents an entire quarter of school days of instruction, or an entire grading period of missed instruction. We know when students miss that many days of school, they struggle to meet the same standards as their peers who received instruction every day.”
Crider stressed that improving attendance and enrollment are major factors in improving educational equity. Ernestine Jackson, the chair of the education committee for the Peoria NAACP, said the community needs to do everything it possibly can to help children stay in school.
“We feel that it's important for students to begin the school year in person, and we think the most important part for children is to have them engage face-to-face with their teachers,” said Jackson. “Establishing teacher, student, peer and family trust, class community, and routines at the beginning of the school year is crucial for student success.”
Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sharon Kherat said the district had a 4.3% decline in attendance, and is currently seeing low enrollments among the youngest students.
“We’re still in need of about 400 kindergarteners,” said Kherat. “During COVID, our younger kids — our K-1 students — suffered significantly, in the sense that they were not connected. So, we do want parents to get them registered; do not wait until the first day of school, which will be Aug. 18, or after Labor Day. Let's get them in the system right now, along with all their shots and physicals that’s necessary.”
Pleasant Hill Superintendent Dr. Lisa Weaver agreed getting students back into a consistent routine holds the key to moving beyond the pandemic-driven health and academic challenges that emerged over the past 16 months.
“We know that you can only learn if you are present and in the classroom, and we want everyone to be in school on the very first day,” said Weaver, whose district has about 200 students and is one of eight that feeds into Limestone Community High School.
Crider said daily attendance is vital to accelerating learning and moving kids forward.
“Peoria County Schools are prepared, they are safe, and they are ready. And they will welcome each family back to learning face-to-face,” she said. “We can support your students’ growth and learning, but only if we get them back in school.”