The attendance percentage for the first quarter of the present year is 96.3, up from 95.5 last year, 96.0 in 1998, and 96.1 in 1997.
"That doesn't sound like a big difference, but it is," said Janotta.
Counting 40 school days per term, and with 400 students in the high school, just one tenth of one percent means 16 extra days of absences over the quarter for the school.
The difference between 96.3 percent this year and 95.5 percent last year means an extra two periods of student contact a day.
Typically high school attendance drops off after the first quarter. Last year, attendance dropped two percent in the second quarter, down to 93.3 percent from 95.5. (See chart.)
Dropping attendance has troubled Janotta for a few years. "I can remember being in the 95th and 96th percentiles consistently," Janotta explained. "Now I see us dipping into the 94s and 93s."
High school attendance is typically below attendance levels at the elementary and middle school. First quarter attendance at the elementary school was 98.2 percent and at the middle school 97.8.
Janotta came away from a county-wide meeting of principals last year believing that Paynesville had the biggest attendance problem.
One response this year was a policy rewarding perfect or exemplary attendance. Perfect attendance represents 100 percent attendance throughout the year. Exemplary attendance allows one day of excused absence each quarter.
The reward is that a student with perfect or exemplary attendance can opt out of the last two days of final exams, if the student decides.
"The kids respond to not taking the final test," said Janotta.
He attributes the slight increase in attendance to students not wanting to miss more than one day to protect their perfect or exemplary attendance. Students might not be inclined to have an outside pass or come late if the cost is sacrificing their attendance record.
At the end of the first quarter, 138 kids still had perfect attendance; however, 22 excused absences on Monday, Nov. 13 (the second deer hunting weekend), cut the number of students with perfect attendance to 116.
The high school is also using a new attendance system this year that keeps track of each period of the day. Stricter record keeping counted smaller absences than in the past, so attendance has improved by more than the slight difference between the percentages of 96.3 and 95.5.
In previous years, attendance was only recorded as present for a whole day, present for a half day, and absent for a full day. However, students were only marked as absent for a half day after missing two periods. So under the old system, a student could miss a period in the morning and a period in the afternoon and still be considered present for the whole day.
While Janotta believes the new attendance policy has been beneficial, he recognizes that it still does not address another attendance problem: a growing number of students missing more and more school. Last year, 97 of 435 students missed more than 15 days of school, a three-year high.
Last year, the high school had roughly the same population as the 1991-92 school year. In 1991-92, only 37 students missed 15 or more days of school.
The new attendance problem doesn't offer any reward for these students to come to school once they miss a couple days of class. Getting these students to improve their attendance is still a problem.
Janotta stressed again that attendance is a permanent part of your school record, whether you want to get a job or get more schooling after high school.
The high school also expects to have the services of an attendance counselor through Stearns County Collaborative Services yet this year. This person would work with students who are chronically absent to resolve personal, family, and work issues that prevent them from attending class.
Quarterly attendance at Paynesville Area High School
Students missing 15 or more days a year
Year: students missing 15 days 1991-92: 37 1992-93: 35 1997-98: 90 1998-99: 77
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