First-day attendance at CPS ticks up toward pre-pandemic levels

Officials are considering the rate an accomplishment after pandemic attendance struggles — and given it’s the earliest start to a CPS school year in modern memory after an unusually short summer.

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Parents and students arrive at Willa Cather Elementary School, 2908 W. Washington Blvd. in East Garfield Park, for the first day of school for Chicago Public Schools, Monday morning, Aug. 22, 2022.

Parents and students arrive at Willa Cather Elementary School, 2908 W. Washington Blvd. in East Garfield Park, for the first day of school for Chicago Public Schools, Monday morning, Aug. 22, 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Attendance rates at Chicago Public Schools continued their climb back toward pre-pandemic levels last week as more than 93% of students showed up to classes on the first day of school, the district announced Friday.

Officials consider the rate an accomplishment after pandemic attendance struggles — in addition, it was the earliest start to a CPS school year in modern memory after an unusually short summer. The district credited its summer programs, jobs and other opportunities with keeping families engaged and ready to return Aug. 22.

“Every day in school matters and we are thrilled to see a higher percentage of students were in class as we started the new year,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement. “Now we must continue to keep students in school where they can continue to learn, grow, and succeed with their classmates.”

Principal Romian Crockett of Chalmers Elementary School in North Lawndale said all students who were expected showed up, for a 100% first-day attendance rate. He credited the school district providing a “priority” list of students with low attendance last year; school staff personally contacted them to remind them of this year’s early start.

They also invited students to a back-to-school bash the Friday before school started, which got students “excited” about school, Crockett said.

“I always tell my teachers that the first day really sets the tone for the school year, and so how we started the year is an indication of how we probably end the year,” Crockett said.

He added that he is focused this year on getting students back in the school “habit” after pandemic struggles and to have as few disruptions as possible.

Some students on the attendance rolls did not show up on the first day, Crockett said, but those students are not counted in the attendance rate. The first-day rate includes students in class and those with an excused absence. The “no-shows” are labeled as “Did Not Arrive.” District officials say some come on subsequent days and their label can easily be changed. Others have transferred.

CPS didn’t release attendance data for the rest of the first week or say how many students were at schools the past two weeks overall. Officials said they would release this year’s enrollment figures after the 20th day of school, which marks the official number for the year. That falls on Sept. 19.

Enrollment in the school district has been on the decline for years, dropping by nearly 74,000 in the last decade. Some researchers predict CPS enrollment could drop by as much as 15,000 students this school year.

There had been concern about attendance given the early start. Even as districts statewide moved start dates earlier into August over the last few decades, Chicago stuck with a post-Labor Day return. Classes started the week before Labor Day last year and two weeks prior this year.

A little over 91% of kids showed up the first day last year, while 84% logged on to start the 2020-21 school year, which featured remote learning due to the pandemic. First-day attendance averaged around 94.3% in the four years preceding COVID-19.

CPS said more than 12,400 students identified as needing support enrolled in summer programming. Thousands of families also attended back-to-school bashes citywide, the district said, receiving free backpacks, supplies, activities and COVID-19 vaccines and health information.

Nader Issa is the education reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ Chicago.

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