Plymouth schools aim to curb absenteeism and up achievement

Published on Tuesday, 27 August 2019 17:18


PLYMOUTH - With the start of this school year, Superintendent of Schools Martin Semmel has focused on increasing advanced placement class offerings, decreasing chronic absenteeism and more.

Over the past three years, Semmel has worked to increase the number of AP class offerings at Terryville High School from six to nine. The most recent class, he said, is AP Computer Science.

“AP computer science is an increasingly important course in this day and age to a lot of students and a lot of them are excited for it,” he said. “Last year we added AP government and politics, and a lot of students signed up for it.”

Semmel added that, in 2018, 20% of students had taken at least one AP class by the time they graduated. This year, that number was up to 50%.

“There have been many cases where students have stopped by after graduating and told us that our AP classes are harder than college,” he said. “My goal is to have all kids take at least one AP class by the time they graduate.”

Also new at Terryville High School will be a new course, “Fire Science,” which will help to prepare students for careers as a paid firefighter.

Seniors at Terryville High School have also begun to participate in a new initiative. Semmel said that students can now pay to paint and decorate their own parking spaces, within guidelines, as a fundraiser for the student council.

Throughout the school system, Plymouth Public Schools will be increasing their focus on “social emotional learning.” Based on studies conducted at Yale, Semmel explained that this approach focuses on students understanding how their emotions affect themselves and others and learning to regulate them.

Semmel said that teachers had been studying social emotional learning in the district for the past two years, but this will be the first year that it is introduced to the students.

“Teachers will be creating ‘charters’ with their students,” said Semmel. “Students will talk with teachers about how they want to feel at school and teachers will have input on how they want to feel. It will be a great dialogue.”

Semmel said that the district has shown “a lot of gains” in reducing chronic absenteeism - defined as when a student misses 18 or more days of school. In the 2017 to 2018 school year, 10% of students were chronically absent. This number has been reduced to 8%.

“10% is way too much in my book,” said Semmel. “It is hard to teach children who have missed that many days. Obviously if they are sick, we don’t want them in school, but we want to do whatever we can to help them succeed. 8% is a good movement but we’re not where we need to be yet.”

When the district identifies a student who is chronically absent, he said that letters are sent to families, and then they may call parents or in some cases visit them at home.

“Parents may eventually be called in for a meeting,” said Semmel. “This is not punitive; it is just our way of seeing what we can do to help.”

Semmel said that the school resource officer has been visiting each school in the district to make recommendations for physical changes that may add an additional layer of security. One such improvement is to have a second set of locking doors with buzzers at the high school, like is currently in place at the other schools.

The school system will also be conducting a district-wide review of math programs, which he said have a full review every five years as part of a cycle.

The Board of Education is currently working with a consultant which conducted a demographics and facilities study. Semmel said that this group is attempting to identify how demographics may change within the next decade or two and how this may impact the use of the town’s four school buildings.

“We have a public forum set for Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. at Terryville High School,” said Semmel. “The Board of Education has made no decisions yet, but we simply want to review the presentation and get input from the public. At some point, additional steps may be taken.”

Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or

Posted in The Bristol Press, Plymouth on Tuesday, 27 August 2019 17:18. Updated: Tuesday, 27 August 2019 17:21.