Earlier this week Governor Cuomo signed into law a bill that makes attendance for kindergarteners enrolled in school in Cohoes and Watervliet mandatory. In accordance with New York State law, school attendance is compulsory for children ages six and above. The exceptions are New York City, Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, Utica, Yonkers, and now Cohoes and Watervliet.
“This law is really for us to address our chronic absenteeism,” said Superintendent Jennifer Spring, Ed.D. “Until now, attendance in school wasn’t mandatory until first grade, which contributed to a significant chronic absenteeism rate for our kindergarteners.” The new law will allow us to put interventions in place much earlier in a child’s life, at a time when establishing good habits early leads to greater success.”
In 2014-15, the chronic absenteeism rate for kindergarteners in Cohoes reached 27.4 percent. Chronically absent means a student misses 10 percent, or 18 or more days, of the school year.
“More than a quarter of our students missing school regularly at a young age is a problem,” said Superintendent Jennifer Spring, Ed.D. “We know that regular attendance in kindergarten sets a solid foundation for academic success. We need to stop the patterns of chronic absenteeism that begin in the earliest years and this law is going to help us do that.”
The local law does not prohibit parents from choosing when to enroll their child in kindergarten, but rather addresses those students who attend school in the district, but begin missing days.
“If a parent decides their child isn’t ready for kindergarten at four or five years-old, we would fully support their decision to wait a year and start when he or she is six.” explained Superintendent Spring. “But when we have children who start missing fifteen, sixteen days of school, they are missing 100+ hours of learning. They quickly fall behind.”
Since January 2016, when the Board of Education first passed a resolution calling on the State Legislature to consider the local option law to lower mandatory attendance, the district has examined chronic absenteeism data by grade level and launched the Every Minute Matters campaign to raise awareness across the school community.
“Absenteeism is a growing issue in schools today,” said Assemblymember John McDonald III, who cosponsored the bill with Senator Neil Breslin. “Our goal with this legislation is to get students on the right track at an earlier age. This is more critical as the new state education plan includes an attendance factor in regard to school performance.”
School administration has also implemented a myriad of programs in an effort to reduce barriers to regular school attendance—from addressing health needs through collaboration with Dr. DiTursi, a local pediatrician who now offers Cohoes students a before-school walk-in sick clinic during the week, to a new partnership with CDTA that provides bus transportation on school shuttle routes for students in grades 6-12.
On Tuesday, the district also announced a partnership with Northern Rivers Family Services to open a school-based behavioral health center for Cohoes families. Now, kids can receive mental health counseling during school hours right in the school, versus missing a whole day of instructional time to travel to an appointment in Albany or Troy.
With one in five adolescents in need of behavioral health support, the district expects more students will begin receiving the services they need to live healthy, productive lives.
“All of these collaborations demonstrate that when we work together, with state government, the city, the county, our human service organizations and our schools, great things happen,” said Superintendent Spring. “We’re excited to implement and expand these programs, as well as see the long term benefits for our students.”