Getting More City of Rochester Kids to School One Door Knock at a Time

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Every year, hundreds of children are chronically absent from school, meaning they're missing 10 percent or more of school days. Some are absent during the most critical learning periods - kindergarten through third grade.

Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams has been on the job for less than a month. She wants to make sure as she gets started this year, her students do, too.

"Having students attending school on a regular basis is extremely critical to their ability to be successful," said Deane-Williams.

The blitz is focused on families with children in kindergarten through third grade. Last year, almost 28 percent of those children were chronically absent.

"There are adult reasons causing children not to be in school. Not that they don't want their child educated, but... 'I'm hungry.' 'We're getting evicted next week.' 'I'm depressed.' There's a substance abuse issue. There's a physical abuse issue. There are transportation issues," said Jerome Underwood, RCSD Youth and Family Services director.

When they go door-to-door, volunteers bring information to connect families to services. They say the vast majority of families are receptive.

The district says in the past two years, 1,700 fewer children have been on the chronically absent list. They say all that door knocking is working.

"I think personal connections are absolutely vital. It's much easier to reach out when you know people by face and name," said Deane-Williams.

Deane-Williams says she plans to spend her first 100 days in office listening to the needs of her parents, educators, staff and partners. Attendance is one part of the initiative she'll be focused on.

"At the end of 100 days or so I think I'll have a good sense of where I can add value to the organization through leadership. I'm going to need a lot of hands and a lot of hearts in that work," she said.

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