Chicago had a long list of disengaged students. Did efforts to reel them in pay off?

Mila Koumpilova:

On the eve of the school year’s start, schools had reached out to roughly 90% of those students and connected with almost two-thirds of them, according to data obtained last month by Chalkbeat Chicago. But those outreach rates varied greatly across campuses, with some schools trying to contact only a small fraction of students. 

Some critics, such as the district’s principal group, say the effort has been too focused on hitting phone call targets, rather than going all out to reconnect with the toughest-to-reach students. Some said the program was at times plagued by poor coordination among the district, campuses and the community groups the district hired. 

District officials have pointed to early attendance numbers to declare the ongoing effort a success: A Day 1 attendance dip this fall was modest, given the early, pre-Labor Day start and the pandemic’s ongoing pressures. Enrollment data Chicago Public Schools has not yet disclosed would help paint a more complete picture; leaders have signalled the district saw another enrollment drop.

In any case, experts and educators stress the work of reengaging students will continue long after schools have gotten them through the doors.

“We haven’t all been in the building with children wall-to-wall for 18 months,” said Ellen Kennedy, the principal at Richards. “We have to figure out how to function together and do school again.”