MMSD continues work to improve attendance

20 percent chronically absent, officials say

Many Madison Metropolitan School District students woke up early Tuesday easing back into their school routines.

Step by step students made their way back to class at Cesar Chavez Elementary School. Parents, including Anita Kulas, felt mixed emotions as they dropped their kids off.

“I’m feeling really kind of nervous but excited at the same time because my kids, they really want to go back to school, but it’s that end of summer feeling right now,” Kulas said as she walked her third-grader to the door.

On the other hand, feelings weren’t very mixed for MMSD Superintendent Jen Cheatham. She said she feels great about her second year in the district and believes they’re off to a good start, building on positive momentum from last year.

“What we’re shooting for is to make sure every school provides a thriving school environment that really puts students on track to graduate, ready for college, career and community,” Cheatham said about the district’s focus.

To get there, Cheatham said the district will continue to work on improving student achievement, access and participation in the arts and school climate.

However, it is the students you may not see here who need more attention. According to Cheatham, 20 percent of students miss 18 or more days of school per year.

“African American students, students with disabilities, those rates are even higher. We see there are even certain grade levels where chronic absenteeism becomes a big problem — 4-K and kindergarten tend to be a challenge and of course high school,” Cheatham said.

Last year, the district worked on informing families of the issue. This year they’re continuing to partner with the United Way of Dane County targeting kindergartners.

“The United Way launched a request for proposals for community organizations to support those schools in working with parents. So we’ll see a whole variety of strategies this year, including home visits, behavioral health screening for families, a whole variety of strategies that we’ll be able to study and learn about what’s really going to have the biggest impact on our schools,” Cheatham said.

As the new year begins, Cheatham urges families to talk with teachers and encourage their students to have a positive attitude when they head into school.