School attendance is a problem for school district

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 9/8/99.

The Paynesville Area School District has a problem. Students are missing too many days of school.

John Janotta, high school principal, said in the 1998-99 school year, 101 of the 457 students in the high school missed 15 or more days of school. "This does not include school sponsored trips," Janotta said.

"No wonder teachers are complaining about having to reteach lessons because of missing students," he added.

Janotta said he wasn't aware of Paynesville's absentee record until he attended a meeting in St. Cloud between Stearns County Human Services and various school districts.

"The figures they presented at the meeting made me think and I went back to the school and looked up our attendance records," Janotta said.

According to the figures, the district in the study with the poorest attendance was Kimball with .11 percent of the student body absent 15 or more days. Sauk Centre had the best record with only six students out of 1,211 missing more than 15 days.

In kindergarten through 12th grade, Paynesville had 12.14 percent missing more than 15 days of school last year.

"Students and parents need to realize that their attendance is part of their school transcript and will follow them the rest of their lives. Colleges and employers look at attendance records. It is important for businesses to know you will be a dependable employee and not miss a lot of days. When they see students missing 20 to 30 days of school, they won't consider that person for a job," Janotta said.

"We need to grab hold of this problem and turn it around," Janotta stressed.

During the 1997-98 school year, Paynesvile had 90 out of 445 high school students miss more than 15 days of school; 44 out of 348 middle school students; and 30 out of 557 elementary students miss more than 15 days of school. Of that total, 90 missed 15 days of school while 20 missed 30 days of school.

"The absentee rate has become an increasing problem over the years," he added.

"The numbers have been fluctuating. In the 1985-86 school year, 51 students were absent more than 15 days. In the 1988-89 school year, 34 were absent and in 1993, the number was 46," Janotta said.

An emerging concern in Stearns County schools is the increasing mobility of students and their families. This mobility greatly impacts student attendance. One small K-4 elementary school ended the 1996-97 school year with 284 students enrolled. During that year 80 students transferred into the district and 101 students transferred out.

In a recent associated press article, it mentioned that prospective employers hope that they're sending a message to high school students and recent graduates that school performance and commitment to learning are important. Janotta handed out the article to ninth grade parents during the open house at the high school last week.

The article also cited one applicant did not get a job after his school records showed he missed 12 days of school and was late 37 times.

Janotta has written letters to students and their parents who have missed 15 or more days of school. He also will be monitoring absentee days more closely this year. Janotta said he has talked to staff members seeking ways they can enhance attendance. "It is a problem the community also needs to be made aware of. Are some of these students working when they should be in the classroom?" Janotta wondered.

"Is it an attitude problem? I hope not," Janotta said. "Despite our attendance problem, we have a lot of good things happening in Paynesville. Our rate for students attending college is climbing," he added. "Last year we had 22 students with perfect attendance in the high school."

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