About one-third of teachers in the Santa Fe Public Schools were absent more than 10 days during the 2011-12 school year due to illness, bereavement or other personal reasons, according to a new analysis released Friday.
The report by Richard Bowman, chief accountability and strategy officer for the district, also showed that 33 percent of teachers were absent more than five days in the year for professional development, coaching or other school business.
The data show major differences among the schools. The percentage of teachers with more than 10 absences in the personal/sick category ranged from 12 percent at Salazar Elementary School to 53 percent at Atalaya Elementary School, for example.
In the professional development/district business category, 58 percent of teachers at Salazar and Wood Gormley Elementary School had more than five absences, compared to 3 percent at Piñon Elementary School.
“The next step is to figure out the ‘why’ behind these numbers, why some schools are really high and others are really low,” Bowman said. “We’re not sure how concerned we should be. There is a pretty big gap.”
He cautioned that the effect of any one teacher is magnified at a small school, such as Acequia Madre.
Bowman also noted that two of the three schools in the district’s “innovation zone” — Piñon and Wood Gormley elementary schools — had relatively low absence rates for teachers. Wood Gormley, for example, had a personal/sick absence rate of 25 percent.
These schools are allowed the most freedom to innovate.
“Maybe it’s just coincidence,” Bowman said. “But it’s the sort of thing we’ll be looking at.”
As for the professional development absences, Bowman said, “We hope teachers are gaining more from it” than students are losing from the absences.
“What we’re concerned about is the disruption to the instructional environment,” he stressed. That occurs when the teacher is sick, as well as when he or she is away for professional development. “Every absence is a disruption.”
Bowman’s study is a response to demand for more information about data presented this fall, following questions from the superintendent’s transition advisory team about staff absences. Disclosure that staff members were absent an average of 17 days a year suggested to some that teachers were slacking off and prompted a demand for a more detailed breakdown of the data.
The report also showed that 34 percent of educational paraprofessionals in the district had more than 10 absences because of illness or other personal reasons.
It is difficult to compare New Mexico’s teacher absence rate to the rest of the country’s. But the state ranked fifth in a report issued last month by the Center for American Progress Report, a research and educational institute. Only Rhode Island, Hawaii, Arizona and Oregon had higher rates of teacher absences in its study, “Teacher Absence as a Leading Indicator of Student Achievement.”
The Center for American Progress calculates the percentage of teachers absent for than 10 days using the most recent information from the federal Civil Rights Data Collection released in early 2012.
On average, the report found that 36 percent of teachers nationally were absent more than 10 days during the 2009-10 school year. State averages ranged from a low of 20.9 percent in Utah to a high of 50.2 percent in Rhode Island.
In this study, the absence rate for New Mexico was 47.5 percent.
Bowman’s study largely relied on data from the system the district uses to track and assign substitutes. According to a spreadsheet pulled from that system, 918 staff members, mostly teachers, had a total of 12,773 absences. He also included another 2,914 days of leave taken by an additional 25 staff members as leaves of absence and long-term leaves.
The main spreadsheet showed that most of the absences — 5,743 , or 37 percent — were due to sickness. Another 2,465, or 16 percent, were described as personal and 3,427, or 22 percent, were for professional reasons. Absences due to bereavement (2 percent), coaching (1 percent), jury service or court obligations (1 percent) and other things, such as workers’ compensation, were minor.
Superintendent Joel Boyd said Friday that the district is in the process of analyzing the data. “Some of the numbers raise more questions,” he noted. “We are not ready to draw any conclusions.”
On the other hand, he added, “We don’t want to be in the inquiry process forever.”
Historically, he said, staff attendance has been a concern in the district’s human resources office, but it is a concern that “has not been investigated.”
The district will be looking closely at the number of days teachers are absent for professional development and the disparities between schools, Boyd said.
“What [national] research tells us is that a teacher’s absence from the classroom for more than 10 days in a year has a significant impact on student achievement,” he explained. “There’s real value in our teachers and our students being in attendance. We can’t lose any one of those pieces.”
NEA-Santa Fe President Bernice Garcia-Baca, a counselor at Aspen Community Magnet School, said in some cases, the high absence rate for professional development can be explained. At Aspen, for example, 56 percent of teachers had more than five days of absence related to professional development because the school has a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum.
“The one thing that could help,” she said, “would be if the district could be more responsive to what staff believes they need professional development for. This is an ongoing issue for us. We’re told what our development is going to be.”
School board member Frank Montaño had not read the report as of Friday afternoon, but he said, “Generally, it seems to me that our district is above the national norm when it comes to absences from the classroom. It needs to be addressed. We need to look at the situation and do whatever we possibly can to make sure our teachers are spending as much time in the classroom as possible.”
Contact Anne Constable at 986-3022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.