At most jobs, you won’t be considered employee of the month just for walking in the door. But it’s a start.
With that low bar in mind, St. Joseph School District administrators are correct to express disappointment at a slip in student attendance rates during the first four months of the academic year.
It didn’t move much, but attendance is down to 89.4 percent, short of the 90 percent mark set in the district’s “Strive for 5” initiative. A drop in attendance also leads to a drop in state aid under Missouri’s complex average daily attendance formula, with even a small decline having the potential to reduce funds by up to $500,000.
In St. Joseph, some would argue that district officials aimed sky high with some of the proposals floated for new high school facilities. The same can’t be said of attendance, which looms as an equally important issue.
Attendance of 90 percent is a pretty modest ask. Chronic absenteeism seems to be particularly harmful for younger students who can fall behind on classroom instruction that becomes a foundation to future success in school.
That’s why the district requires summer school for students in kindergarten through eighth grade who miss more than 10 days of school. District officials insist this is not a punishment.
“From an educator’s lens, I don’t see summer school as punitive,” said Kendra Lau, SJSD’s director of school improvement. “More so now, parents view summer school as an opportunity for kids. We have a high rate of participation.”
We don’t doubt that modern summer school is an enriching experience that many students love. We also suspect that those who get the most out of it are the same students who are likely to hit attendance marks during the regular school year.
This district seems to be left with some of the tougher cases, those students and families who may fail to see value in education. Most of St. Joseph’s citizens might seem puzzled at this problem and would be inclined to just tell kids to grab their book bags and get to class.
There seems to be something fundamentally wrong here, if this many students are not walking through the doors. In the big picture, it’s something that can’t be fixed with well-intentioned gestures like lunch with the principal or threats (sorry, opportunities) of summer school.
The district is beginning to take a look at some of these issues, from health care to transportation to stable housing. The answer remains elusive but critical to St. Joseph’s future, because students who don’t show up for school today could become the adults who skip out on work down the road.