Cassville Primary School stands out with attendance results

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Principal: Joint efforts of staff making a difference

Even in the best of circumstances and with practicing prevention, young children get sick and miss school.

But the Cassville Primary School is doing something unique, because its students, which include grades kindergarten through second, are not missing much school, causing them to stand out among the four schools in the Cassville district.

The school district reported this year the primary building had the best overall attendance rate of all the schools in the district.

Catherine Weaver, primary school principal, said the accomplishment is credited to staff deciding attendance was so important, and ties into every aspect of a students' success, that they implemented a comprehensive plan to address it.

"It's amazing they had the best attendance with all the childhood illnesses," Weaver said. "Historically, the primary building and high school building tend to have the lowest percentages in the district. Our little guys get sick a lot, so it has always been one of our goals to get those percentages up."

According to Weaver, who is in her 18th year, the Missouri average for attendance is 94.4 percent. She reported that about five years ago, the average attendance rate for the school was 93.9 percent. Now, it has surpassed the state average at 95.7 percent.

"It is so exciting for us because attendance has been a big focus for us," she said.

Weaver said her long-term goal is to meet a new state initiative of 90-by-90, and currently, she reports that the majority of students have very good attendance.

"The state looks at your overall attendance, but you have to have 90 percent of your kids here at least 90 percent of the time," she said. "So we are focusing on both of those."

Weaver said the school has implemented several activities and initiatives which she attributes to the improved attendance rates, one of which was establishing an attendance committee and the Positive Behavior Support initiative, which encourages good choices.

"The PBS was an initiative we started with a PBS coach, and a teacher we designated as a lead person, then we put together a PBS and attendance committee," she said. "These came from the teachers working together to come up with different incentives. It was a building-wide initiative, with everyone working on different levels to encourage kids to have good attendance and make good choices.

"A few years ago, attendance was very low, and [Weaver] decided to make attendance a priority," said Jill LeCompte, assistant superintendent for the district. "She and her teachers have worked extremely hard to reward kids for attendance, and to teach them that it is extremely important. She's elated with the results."

Beginning this past year, each month, the school holds a PBS assembly in the FEMA building to recognize students for two categories of attendance -- best overall attendance and most improved attendance. Students are also recognized for good behaviors and given rewards, such as good behavior on the bus or in the hallways. Staff have implemented a variety of incentives that have worked to motivate children to maintain good attendance, including the "traveling trophies" incentive.

"Two years ago, we started traveling trophies in our building," Weaver said. "We'd announce it on the intercom and make a big deal of it. Originally, we had one trophy for best overall attendance, and one for most improved. By the second semester, we realized it was so successful, we decided to do it by grade level. We'd announce the winning class in our assemblies, and they'd get their picture taken. You'd think these kids won a million dollars when they get the trophy, and that's great. That's what we want them to think."

Primary Art Teacher Charla Curry is on the attendance committee and makes the trophies. She also works with each class to help them design a "class bus" that moves along a special track painted on the wall in the hallway toward a "finish line" of 90 percent attendance.

"The track indicating their attend percentage is on the wall outside of the office, and every month, the kids are all working to move their buses past the finish line," Weaver said. "They're all racing toward that 90 percent or better. When they go by in the hall, they see where they are and where they want to go."

The school also has "Five Star" recognition and "Paws of Fame" initiatives, in which individual students or their classes are given medals, recognized publicly at assemblies, or given special privileges, such as getting preferred seating or getting to leave early. There are also a myriad of incentives and fun activities they can earn, such as a game day, water activity day outside, prizes and more.

"We're trying to recognize individual students, but also classes and grade levels, and perfect attendance at the end of year," Weaver said. "We generally have about 10-15 students with perfect attendance for the whole year."

Weaver said students are so motivated to maintain good attendance, that they ask their parents to make sure they are not late, and not picked up early.

"Bugs happen, and that's why we really try to encourage parents to schedule those doctor appointments after school, and promote good hygiene," Weaver said. "Our policy says a child has to be fever-free 24 hours, which means they are basically out for two days, at best, so that's why we're always talking to them about washing their hands, not putting their mouth on water fountains, etc.

"This all ties into our annual performance report as a district. The bottom line is, so much of our learning is activity-based, so it's not like we can send a worksheet home and say, 'Do this,' to make up work. It's within activities that their learning is taking place. So that's why we tell parents, you can't really make up missed time because the experience occurs in the learning process, and from other kids as they go through these activities."

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