GREENSBORO, N.C. - Remember that perfect attendance award, given out at the end of grade and gradutation when you were in school? A North Carolina lawmaker is pushing for teachers to get their own reward for not missing any school days and it would be in the form of a yearly cash bonus.
“I think if there’s a $1,000 on the line, I wouldn’t be sick,” said Jerry Tillman, North Carolina Senate Majority Whip.
The idea is a direct result of a 2 Wants To Know investigation uncovering a staggering amount of area teachers who are “chronically absent” from the classroom.
HOW MANY TEACHERS CUT CLASS?
WFMY News 2's Ben Briscoe looked at the numbers.
Out of every one hundred teachers in Davidson County, 62 are “chronically absent” from the classroom according to the most recent Department of Education records. That means those teachers missed more than 2 full of weeks of the school year – not summer, not spring break, not winter break – during the school year. More than 2 weeks. It’s not just Davidson County.
“CHRONICALLY ABSENT TEACHERS”
- DAVIDSON COUNTY: 62 Percent
- GUILFORD COUNTY: 52 Percent
- ASHEBORO CITY SCHOOLS: 50 Percent
- ROCKINGHAM COUNTY: 43 Percent
- STATE AVERAGE: 34 Percent
- NATIONAL AVERAGE: 27 Percent
Find out how your school did:
“That is really an appalling statistic,” said Tillman.
Tillman worked in education for 40 years. He says over the decades, he only took 2 sick days, so the idea of a teacher taking off more than 10 days:
“Some of them are truly sick and you certainly sympathize and you truly understand and that’s that,” Tillman said. But anytime the teacher is out is where my concern comes is that the classroom routine is different. Many times, the substitute is not that familiar with the subject matter and you do a lot of busy work.”
Research shows when teachers miss this much school “there is a significant decrease in student outcomes.” And by missing scheduled teacher planning meetings, they can even have a negative impact on the students of their colleagues.
HOW SCHOOLS RESPOND
DAVIDSON COUNTY Schools (DCS):
Public Information Officer Donna Stafford sent this statement:
The Office of Civil Rights collects data on teacher absenteeism as part of its data collection every two years. For this particular report, "teacher" includes classroom teachers and certified support staff such as guidance counselors and social workers.
In 2013-14 DCS reported 736 teachers who missed a total of 10 or more days due to personal, sick, jury duty, or military leave, which was 54 percent of all staff included in that collection. Although the data for 2015-16 will not be certified until Monday, April 24 2017, DCS is presently reporting a total of 650 teachers who have been absent in excess of 10 days due to the reasons listed above. This equates to 43%, which is a decline of 11 percentage points from the previous collection.
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources stated, "Teachers and support staff who are absent ten or more days submit documentation related to the absences. We take the well being of our employees seriously and absences greater than ten days are sometimes necessary. We do not take absenteeism lightly,but understand the needs of our employees."
GUILFORD COUNTY Schools (GCS):
GCS said the number reported may be higher than reality because their tracking systems are 20 years old and limited. And Chief of Staff Nora Car added:
“While some of these absences are due to professional learning, which improves instruction and benefits our students, we clearly have a teacher attendance problem that is deeply concerning. Children simply don’t learn as well when a substitute is present,” Car said.
Carr also said that while at first glance the data might lead parents and others to question teacher professionalism, the issue is much more complex and requires a systemic response. GCS does not see this as a teacher-by-teacher issue, in other words.
“We need to pay attention to the demand and stresses we place on teachers, and provide them with more and better support. Teacher morale and pay are big issues, not just in GCS, but across the state and nationally. Teachers want and deserve better pay and working conditions, and that’s not something we can solve on our own - public policy decisions regarding testing, funding, capital (buildings/facilities/technology) and other related issues have a big impact,” Carr said.
The district also stressed professional development/professional learning and teacher support are top priorities for our new superintendent. That was also supported by the transition team’s report to the Board, and is why GCS is seeking grant funding to help address some of these concerns. The district says budget constraints factor looking at a number of ways they may achieve that goal and improve these numbers.
ROCKINGHAM COUNTY Schools:
“Most likely the reasoning for this percentage is our calendar. We have a 168 day school calendar which has 12 built in optional teacher workdays (we have already had 9 of these 12) and 14 required workdays. These optional days give our teachers the option to work or take a day of leave. This is reported in the report you were viewing. For example, a teacher could have missed 7 of the optional work days and only 3 student days. So, they have missed a total of 10 days, but they were not ALL student days. I hope this helps explain the data,” Public Information Officer Karen Hyler said.
ASHEBORO CITY SCHOOLS:
2 Wants To Know reached out multiple times for comment. We haven’t heard back.
ALAMANCE BURLINGTON SCHOOL SYSTEM:
According to the government records Alamance County schools actually has the most missing teachers with 87 percent labeled "chronically absent." But a district spokesperson told us they made a mistake in how they reported the numbers to the government. And they can't tell us what the real percent of missing teachings was.
WHAT TEACHERS SAY
“Germs, the flu epidemic goes around every time each year,” said Mark Jewell. He’s the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “You know pressure from large class sizes, from not having materials, responsibilities of working very late in the evenings and sometimes many weekends. You know all of those things contribute to the wellbeing and health of a teacher.”
A lot of parents are going to see this and say: teachers get the summer off, all the holidays off, how are they missing more than 10 days of school too?
“I would say having the summer months off is really a false illusion because many of our teachers have to do second jobs during those summer months and they also must prepare for their students,” Jewell said.
WHAT ARE POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS?
After seeing 2 Wants To Know’s findings, Senator Tillman says school administrators and the state should do a better job of recognizing the teachers who DO show up every day. So he’s pushing to start a bonus program for perfect attendance.
“I think if there’s a $1,000 on the line, I wouldn’t be sick,” he said. “I don’t mind looking into that and seeing if they state can do something to promote attendance in the classroom by the teachers.”
But that’s just one idea. And it’s not clear yet where the money would come from for this. So 2 Wants To Know your ideas.
E-mail suggestions to email@example.com
We’re going to follow up on each good idea that comes in to us starting with one idea from the school district that performs the best in our area.
“COMMUNITY HELP IS KEY”
Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains are the peak performers of teacher attendance like Spanish Teacher Melissa Vestal. She was supposed to be out for five weeks after knee surgery. She came back to work after two days.
“I just couldn’t do it,” she said laughing. “I don’t like to sit still.”
Alleghany County has the lowest rate of chronically absent teachers out of all the school districts in our area. Only 11 percent of their staff misses 10 or more days during the school year according to US Department of Education records.
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the WFMY News 2 App now.
“I work in a motivating place,” Vestel said. “The teachers here, we motivate each other. We all enjoy each other’s company. And we enjoy where we work.”
Superintendent Chad Beasley says a lot of that positivity comes from the community cheering teachers on.
“That’s really key to the effectiveness of what’s going on in Alleghany County,” he said. “Our Ed Foundation even sponsors scholarships for teachers for them to go back to school.”
And the high school principal says community support doesn’t stop there. Some folks bring food for teachers, send cards and one even sends flowers.
You see the love for teachers baked into all parts of town like Main Street’s Mustard Seed Café – where every school principal can bring their teacher of the month for a free meal.
“They go above and beyond not just here but everywhere. And it’s just a small way we can give back to them just part of what they give to their community, said Café owner Mary Teague.
Showing appreciation to teachers is no foreign concept for most communities, but the small Alleghany County seems to have raised it up to an art form.
How You Can Help
All of this from Alleghany County was such a good idea, 2 Wants To Know thought we have to show appreciation also. And we need your help! We want you to nominate a deserving school to get rewarded with donuts or another treat for the teachers.
Send e-mail with which school you think should be rewarded to the address 2ThankTeachers@wfmy.com
Please keep it short. We’re going to pick out the most moving submissions and keep brining goodies to show appreciation to the best teachers in the Triad.
And to stay on top of all the updates we do with this story, follow Ben Briscoe on social media:
Facebook: Ben Briscoe WFMY