Merced's elementary and middle schools are off to a good start this fall when it comes to attendance, with keeping classrooms full a top priority throughout the 17-campus system.
Greg Blount, the Merced City School District's director of support services and information technology, said district schools logged 97.4 percent attendance for August and September.
Cruickshank, Peterson and Tenaya schools had 99 percent attendance in August, Blount said, and he is hoping the momentum carries through the rest of the school year.
Attendance numbers tend to drop slightly as the year progresses, mainly because of illnesses in the primary grades. The district has about 10,700 pupils.
Superintendent RoseMary Par-ga Duran said that the Board of Education has adopted a goal of 97 percent attendance for the entire school year.
"It's important; the only way to learn is if they are in their seats," Duran said. "It (attendance) goes hand-in-hand with student achievement. Of course we are only paid if they are there, but that's not the No. 1 reason."
Blount said 100 percent attendance is not realistic or sustainable.
"Kids get sick and we realize that," Blount said. "Some schools have showed classes with 99 to 100 percent attendance. We try to aim for 97 percent for the entire school year."
Medical and transportation issues are the main barriers to high attendance, Blount said. Chronic absences sometimes run about 10 percent or more, but the goal is to reduce that figure to 2 percent.
At the end of the 2011-2012 school year in June, 10 schools improved attendance over the district average: Chenoweth, Fremont, Gracey, Peterson, Reyes, Sheehy, Stefani, Cruickshank, Rivera and Tenaya, said Blount, who tracks attendance trends for the district.
Trisha Wylie, Fremont Charter School principal, said that there are daily incentives to get students to school, including banners that classes can display when they have perfect attendance.
The school provides automatic wake-up calls for families of students who have been absent. There is a bulletin board display case at the main entrance to the school that shows attendance figures.
"We want students to be on time every day," Wylie said. "They can't learn if they are not here. Our attendance clerk encourages families, and the focus is on parents. It's a concerted effort by all staff members."
Typically the biggest challenge in keeping attendance numbers up is getting younger students in the lower grades to attend classes regularly.
Blount said five schools -- Franklin, Fremont, Givens, Peterson and Wright -- have attendance figures at least 1½ percent above baseline figures for the last three years.
Duran said administrators, principals and other educators keep an eye on attendance right from the start and are doing a better job of monitoring these figures throughout the year.
High attendance goal
Dalinda Saich, Givens School principal, said her school's goal is 98 percent attendance or better, and the campus is now above 97 percent.
"Hopefully we make kids feel good about coming to school," Saich said. "There are quarterly pizza parties for the classes with the highest attendance and perfect attendance banners. Our parents understand the importance of being here."
Vance d'Escoto, Franklin School principal, said communicating with parents about the need to make sure their kids are in school is very important because attendance in the early years is crucial to academic success.
Franklin students can color in a letter on a banner spelling out the words "Perfect Attendance" on days when everyone is there. When all of the letters are colored, there are popcorn parties, d'Escoto said. Students with perfect attendance are acknowledged every quarter and for the entire year.
"They need to be in school," d'Escoto said.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.