RSU 9 board discusses student absenteeism

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FARMINGTON – At the RSU 9 Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday night, board members and administrators discussed the rising concern of absenteeism throughout the district and various ways to improve overall attendance.

Principal of Mt. Blue High School Joel Smith provided the board with his administrator report for the month of September. Smith highlighted that MBHS is currently hosting nine international students from various countries, and 13 students will be visiting MBHS from the Canary Islands in Spain for two weeks in October.

“These students bring diversity to the school, exposing our Mt. Blue students to different cultures, languages, and perspectives, fostering a more inclusive and globally aware school environment,” Smith wrote in his report.

Smith also reported that attendance has been a rising issue at the school, and they have been closely monitoring and finding ways to improve overall attendance. Smith stated that the school has set an internal goal of increasing overall attendance by 3%, while the district has set a goal of increasing attendance by 5% over the next few years.

“We developed a more proactive approach, targeting students before absences accumulate,” Smith wrote. “We also focused on developing district communications stressing the importance of daily attendance.”

Principal of Cascade Brook School Nicole Goodspeed provided her administrator report for September, highlighting recent upgrades to school facilities as well as an update regarding the school’s attendance rates.

Director of School Nutrition Andy Hutchins and Culinary Specialist David Cardinale upgraded the cafeteria at CBS over the summer, adding new furniture, blue and gold paint, and decals that feature the school’s message of R2S1 (responsible, respectful, and safe). Maintenance Supervisor Mike Turner also assisted with adding new swings, steps for the sliders, and new musical chimes on the playground. The upgrades to the playground were made possible through the use of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.

Goodspeed included in her report that the average daily attendance has improved from 89% in FY22 to 92% in FY23. Goodspeed is also working to develop strategies to support the district goal of reducing the percentage of students who are chronically absent by 50% during the 2023-24 school year.

“One of the biggest things we learned in the last couple of days is to make sure that we are touching base with all of our students in some way or some form,” Goodspeed said.

Principal of W.G. Mallet School Tracy Williams also provided an administrator report and stated that according to a recent district data synopsis provided by Superintendent Christian Elkington, Mallett School was consistently the third highest in the percentage of those in the “chronically absent” category.

“We started the year with an effort to make positive phone calls home, positive connections, and reach out to people right off the bat,” Williams said.

Director Richard Ruhlin commented on the attendance data surrounding Mt. Blue Middle School, Mt. Blue High School, and the W.G. Mallet School.

“As the three largest schools, it just feels like your aggregate amount of net students absent; it doesn’t seem like your percentages are out of whack across the district,” Ruhlin said. “The percentiles seem to all be within striking distance of each other at every school.”

In new business, the board voted to approve Dr. Emily Jacobs as the RSU 9 District Physician for 2023-2024 at a cost of $2,000.

“She’s been our physician for several years, and has always been very helpful and always willing to answer questions,” Elkington said. “She’s very helpful, and we’re very happy to have her back.”

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