Dr. Gregory E. Thornton

I am very pleased to report that our school opening on Aug. 25 went smoothly, and that our students started the new school year with enthusiasm and excitement.

For me, the first day of school is pure joy. I visited families in their homes, walked children to school and greeted hundreds of students and their families – many of whom shared their hopes and dreams for their children with me. It  was a wonderful day; and I am sincerely grateful to Gov. Martin O’Malley, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, State Superintendent Lillian Lowery, Commissioner Peter Kannam, Councilman Jim Kraft, and – of course – the Oriole Bird for joining us on our first day tour to show our kids that their education is a top priority for all of us.

As the new school year begins in earnest, we realize that a lot of hard work lies ahead. I am writing today to ask for your help in overcoming the biggest single obstacle to our students’ achievement: attendance. Research conducted right here in Baltimore shows that students who have strong attendance in September will have better attendance all year long. And we have long known that strong attendance means better academic performance, higher graduation rates, and increased college enrollment.

Unfortunately, even at this early point in the school year, we have students who have not yet attended school, and others whose patterns of attendance are already worrisome. High levels of truancy and chronic absence threaten to undermine everything that we are working so hard to accomplish for our kids. While the reasons students miss school are numerous and often complex, the consequence of chronic absenteeism is simple: children cannot learn if they aren’t in the classroom, and every day they miss puts them further behind their peers.

Many of our families face challenges that hinder regular student attendance. That’s why all of us – family members, educators, public officials, community and business leaders – must accept responsibility and work together to ensure that every student is in school every day, on time and ready to learn.

City Schools has established a Help Hotline, to give families a single place to call for assistance in getting immunizations, uniforms, school supplies, or any other issue that threatens to keep their kids out of school. I strongly urge families who need help to call us at 443-984-2020.

Join us to work together to correct this problem, to ensure that our school system reaches the high standards to which we aspire, and that our students realize the potential we know they possess. We are committed to helping our families support their children’s achievement. Please join with us to make this school year a success for every student in Baltimore.

Dr. Gregory E. Thornton was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Baltimore City Public Schools, effective July 1. His email address is CitySchoolsCEO@bcps.k12.md.us.