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Pittsburgh Public Schools struggles with student attendance, according to new report

A+ Schools Executive Director James Fogarty gives a presentation on the findings from this year's report to the community.
Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
A+ Schools Executive Director James Fogarty gives a presentation on the findings from this year's report to the community.

About half of Pittsburgh Public Schools high schoolers were chronically absent last year, meaning they missed more than 18 days — or 10% of school time.

Throughout all grades, 42% of students were chronically absent last year, compared to the pre-pandemic level of 27% in 2019-20.

There are plenty of reasons why: illness, including COVID-19, housing instability, transportation, and mental health challenges, among other things.

A new report from Pittsburgh-based education advocacy group A+ Schools notes absenteeism is highly predictive of whether a student will graduate. But A+ Executive Director James Fogarty says the issue of getting kids to school can be solved if community groups come together to work with the district,

He identified the four biggest barriers to attendance as healthcare, transit, housing and safety.

“We can solve problems together. We can look at the aggregate data, identify areas where families might need extra support and think creatively,” he said.

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Wayne Walters said Monday that the district owns its existing inequities.

“As a district, we are currently challenged to improve student achievement and eliminate racial disparities significantly,” he said.

He said the administration and board had identified five goals: investing in culturally responsive training tools, constructing safety and health protocols, expanding stakeholder communication and partnerships, designing effective organizational systems, and strategically allocating resources equitably.

The report also notes that the district has lost 14% of its student population since the 2017-18 school year. For several years district administrators have said that most buildings are under capacity and could be consolidated. According to the district, it currently has facilities to serve 19,500 more students.

A+ has published an annual report to the community detailing achievement data and the demographics of teachers and students in each of the district’s schools.

The organization is mailing 15,000 copies of the report to families this week and distributing another 200 to community centers and public spaces.