A review of Proviso High School Township District 209 scores on the 2023 Illinois Report Card captures a snapshot of the effects of big changes to district administration, COVID and a torn district. 

Bessie Karvelas

The Illinois Report Card is an annual report released by the Illinois State Board of Education detailing a complete picture of student and school performances. 

The three-school district, which includes Proviso East High School, Proviso West High School, and Proviso Math and Science Academy, scored a 66.4% in chronic absenteeism as measured by the Illinois State Report Card. According to the report, state law defines a “chronic absentee” as someone who misses 10 percent of school days within an academic year with or without a valid excuse. 

The state average according to the report is 28.3%.

“This year, we see a 5% improvement in chronic absenteeism which is good news, it is headed in the right direction,” said state Superintendent of Education Tony Sanders. “Still, nearly 30% of students were chronically absent in Illinois last year.”

For Black and Hispanic students, that percentage is higher with 42% of Black students and 34.5% of Hispanic students chronically absent.

In Proviso, a minority-heavy school district, 70.6% of Black students and 65.3% of Hispanic students are chronically absent in comparison with 47.9% of White students. 

While the district’s numbers are not an anomaly across the state, Amanda Grant, board of education president, said it is highly important for students to show up in the classroom as attendance is a high indicator of graduation rates, as well as how well students perform throughout the academic school year. 

“We want kids to be here,” Grant said. “You are not getting the best education if you are not here in the classroom.” 

According to the report, chronic absenteeism has increased in the district in the last three years: in 2021, the rate came in at 25.9%, and in 2022, 48.1%. 

Individually for chronic absenteeism, PMSA scored 27.6%, Proviso East scored 66.4%, and Proviso West scored a shocking 84.1%. 

Entering her 11th year at Proviso Township, acting superintendent Bessie Karvelas, who took over following James L. Henderson’s resignation earlier this year, said she was also not surprised by the data. 

“I knew that we were going to show a dip,” Karvelas said. “It was a challenging three years and there were a lot of changes because administration did things very differently than we were doing things before.” 

Going hand-in-hand with chronic absenteeism is the truancy rate at Proviso, which for the 2023 report card was 63.2% compared to the state’s average of 19.9%. The chronic truancy rate, which is the percentage of students who miss 5% or more of school days per year, regardless of the reason, has steadily increased in the past three years from 31.2% in 2021 and 47.1% in 2022. 

Black and Hispanic students also showed to miss more than five percent of school days compared to their White classmates, with 66.8% Black students and 63.6% Hispanic students being accounted for, compared to 33.1% of White students. 

To address both absenteeism and truancy, the district needs to work in partnership with families, Karvelas said, to ensure kids are in school when they need to be.

That partnership with families can come in a variety of ways and the district needs to look at their attendance policy and be proactive about being in communication with parents, said Karvelas. 

“The attendance office needs to be more proactive about calling home and parents need to be focused on their students’ attendance when they are not in school after so many days,” Karvelas said. “They need to make sure the parent comes to school and they go through the policy and procedures that are set in place.” 

It is by building upon that communication that both parents and the schools can work on finding a solution to whatever is causing the student to miss school. 

“Is there a problem at school, is there a problem at home, is there a problem getting here, it is really about finding the underlying cause because it could be something that has nothing to do with school,” Grant said. “We have to make sure we are doing all we can on our end to get students here and making sure they have what they need once they enter our doors.” 

The district has already begun addressing different factors that have contributed to those high rates in absenteeism and truancy, including transportation, which in the past has created various issues including chronic tardiness. 

“Getting transportation was definitely an issue last year,” Grant said. “We knew going into this school year that we really had to be working hand-in-hand with First Student to make sure we had enough buses and bus routes for our kids, for all three schools.” 

According to Grant, the district has increased the number of routes and drivers. Additionally, some bus route times have changed to allocate enough time for students to get to their first class before school starts. 

Karvelas said the district works on being more proactive to catch any issues with attendance before they escalate, including notifying parents. Adjudication hearings should also be considered, she added.

“As much as we don’t want to have adjudication hearings, maybe we need to go that route,” Karvelas said. “There has to be accountability on the parents as well as of course the school end. We need to work together as a team.” 

If not addressed, chronic absenteeism and truancy will continue to impact other areas in a student’s education.

“Attendance is such a great indicator of success,” Grant said. “All of our rates: proficiency, participations, graduation, all of those are going to be down if attendance is down. That is something we are looking at from the very first day; who is here, who isn’t here and why.”

“Overall, obviously right now we are seeing the outcome of the last three years, in terms of COVID and other things that have happened in the district,” said Amanda Grant, board of education president. “None of this was a surprise.”

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