RUMFORD — Nearly 26% of Regional School Unit 10 students missed 10% of school days in 2018-19, a slight increase from the year before, Superintendent Deb Alden told directors Monday evening.

Displaying a chart on chronic absenteeism at the two high schools, the middle school and three elementary schools, Alden said, “It’s not as good as we all hoped; it isn’t. We’ve gotta keep working on it.”

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10% of the days students are enrolled in school. There are 175 school days in the academic year.

Alden said by phone Wednesday that there are a variety of reasons students miss school.

“Obviously, sometimes students don’t have the family backing to go to school,” she said. “The little ones, if they don’t have parents able to support getting them up and getting to school, that’s obviously a problem. Then it becomes a habit so they have a problem when they get to the higher grades.”

Rumford Elementary School Principal Jill Bartash told directors, “Our worst attendance is in kindergarten, by far, because the parents don’t think it’s that important.” Some parents say, “‘It’s just kindergarten,'” she said.

Alden said administrators are trying hard to focus on young students, “Trying to get kids engaged and excited about going to school” and to help themselves get there.

To help older students who are chronically absent, the district has a program called Building Assets Reducing Risks, or BARR.

“We do it with all our freshmen,” Alden said, to give them more individual help to overcome risks and develop strategies to build resilience.

Another program for high school students is Jobs for Maine Graduates, which partners with public education and private businesses to offer results-driven solutions to ensure all students graduate, attain post-secondary credentials and pursue meaningful careers, according to its website.

Alden said the district also uses the federally funded GEAR UP program, which is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education.

Besides building connections with staff to get students engaged in school, Alden said, the administration has partnered with law enforcement and has gone to homes to explain to families the importance of children going to school.

“One of the reasons it’s important,” she said, is so students “learn and become productive adults.”

Chronic absenteeism is one factor the state considers in assessing how schools are performing, Alden said. “We’re trying to make sure we’re looking at it, too.”

The enrollment for each school and the absenteeism rate for 2018-19 are:

  • Mountain Valley High School, Rumford, 159 students, 37.32%;
  • Buckfield Junior-Senior High School, 58 students, 24.07%;
  • Mountain Valley Middle School, Mexico, 60 students, 21.43%;
  • Rumford Elementary School, 72 students, 24.32%;
  • Hartford-Sumner Elementary School, Sumner, 60 students, 20%; and
  • Meroby Elementary School, Mexico, 62 students, 22.3%.

According to the chart, the rates of chronic absenteeism districtwide are 27.17% in 2016-17; 24.69% in 2017-18; and 25.83% in 2018-19.

Staff editor Mary Delamater contributed to this report.

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