Of the six elementary schools in Hyde Park-Kenwood, only Murray Language Academy saw more students attend class on Sept. 8, the first day of remote learning, than the 84.2% average attendance across all Chicago Public Schools.
In interviews, local principals said attendance increased as the week went on and attributed issues to early technological hiccups.
The district reported the attendance as:
- 69.04% at Reavis, 834 E. 50th St.
- 75.23% at Kozminski, 936 E. 54th St.
- 76.42% at Shoesmith, 1330 E. 50th St.
- 83.23% at Ray, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave.
- 84.11% at Bret Harte, 1556 E. 56th St.
- 91.89% at Murray, 5335 S. Kenwood Ave.
In Woodlawn, Fiske Elementary, 6020 S. Langley Ave., attendance was 61.02%, and it was 91.50% at Carnegie Elementary, 1414 E. 61st Place.
Among area high schools, attendance was 89.43% at Kenwood Academy on Sept. 8; 99.78% at King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel Blvd., and 92.17% at Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St. Hyde Park Academy, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., saw 73.86% attendance on the first day of classes.
“The overwhelming majority of our students showed up ready and eager to learn on the first day of school, and I am so proud of our staff and school communities who have been working tirelessly over the summer to ensure families had what they need to log-in on day one,” said CPS CEO Janice K. Jackson in a statement. “While our first day attendance rate is lower than in-person school comparisons due to challenges related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I am encouraged by our outreach efforts, which will remain ongoing as we work to ensure families have what they need to participate in remote learning.”
In 2019, CPS saw 94.2% attendance on the first day of school, with comparable figures in years before that.
Principal Charlie Bright said Bret Harte has seen a significant increase in attendance this first week of the new school year over the remote period of the last academic year. Many of the absences were corrected after the first day of school, with 20 fewer students absent on Sept. 9 and every day since, to over 90% by Friday.
"A lot of them were password issues, with parents still having difficulty logging in, and sometimes students still need updated technology," he said. School officials have been reaching out to parents by phone, text and email to see where problems lie, and the school has been distributing Chromebooks and iPads.
Sonia Vergara, Ray Principal Gayle Harris-Neely's executive assistant, said some of the technological equipment distributed to students in the spring was no longer working. Some Bret Harte students are still having trouble with internet connections, despite the CPS "Chicago Connected" program to provide free high-speed access to students. Bright said "the overwhelming majority" of students have a device, and an order of power cords for on-hand iPads should arrive next week.
At Murray, Assistant Principal Tiffanie Burton said staff trained over the last week of summer break to help parents with Google log-on issues. The school also created an attendance tracker.
"On the first day, students who were not in class were put on this tracker, and the attendance team and teachers immediately made phone calls," she explained. "The second day, we saw a reduction in that number, and we did the same thing for students who did not attend that day, and parents were immediately notified, either via phone or email."
Attendance at Murray was 94% on Sept. 9 and 95% on Sept. 10.
Both Bret Harte's Bright and Carnegie Principal Docilla Pollard estimated that they spent 80% of their first two days of the new school year helping parents connect with remote classrooms. Bret Harte is new to the use of Google Classroom — now used for remote learning across CPS — this year. Pollard said Carnegie benefited from having used the online suite for middle school grades since 2015, though younger students and their parents struggled with it.
The Carnegie staff also did substantial work over the summer, with parent workshops in August and device distribution before the first day back. Pollard spent the week before school working with parents remotely, until 9 p.m. most days: "We went over stuff from 'What is the Google Classroom' to 'What is a search engine.' If they didn't take the parent workshop, they may not know simple things,"
But the attendance on the first day, on which she answered 80 emails from parents, did not meet her personal benchmark. "To me, 91% was not good," she said. "I was disappointed, because generally on the first day of school we have like 97%. I didn't want it to be any different than any other day of school."
Pollard started inviting parents to meet outside the Woodlawn school with their children to trouble-shoot, socially distanced.
"I would sit across, six feet away from them, and then I'd walk them through it, with their kid being there," she said. "The kid, the parent, were happy with that. When they realized that they just couldn't get it, they didn't understand my emails, they just couldn't do it, that way, when they just physically came up, I was like, 'Not a problem.'"
By Friday, 556 out of Carnegie's 569 students, or 97.72%, attended remote classes.