Union was only slightly off its district wide goal to meet Missouri’s attendance guidelines that recommends school districts strive to see 90 percent of its students in attendance 90 percent of the time.

But Assistant Superintendent Dr. Scott Hayes believes raising attendance at Union R-XI School District should go beyond numbers.

Hayes said understanding why certain students don’t make it to class can remedy some chronic absenteeism.

Overall, last year an average of 89.4 students were in class 90 percent of the time at the school district. Hayes said while that percentage isn’t bad, there’s room for improvement.

“Attendance is huge. If they’re not here, they’re not going to learn,” Hayes said. “That’s something we talk about on a monthly basis with our building administrators.”

Throughout the district, Hayes said there were areas of improvement and areas where improvement was needed. Beaufort Elementary finished the school year with a 90.1 percent attendance rate; Central Elementary finished the year at 87.6 percent; and Clark Vitt marked off the year at 91.3 percent. The middle school and high school had a 83.7 and 86.2 percent rate, respectively.

Those “ups and downs” are why the district began tracking attendance on a month-by-month basis. Hayes said the district uses a three-pronged approach, which focuses on tracking attendance with building administrators, identifying why individual students are missing class and implementing intervention and support programs.

He said understanding why students are absent is important to combating absenteeism.

“We’re really trying to work on what type of a support or intervention programs we can put into place when it comes to attendance,” Hayes said.

At Central Elementary, Principal Leslie Lause said she and her staff try to reinforce the tenets of the district wide Leader in Me program. She said reminding students that part of being a leader is showing up to school consistently.

“We want to make sure kids know that they need to be here because that’s part of being a responsible citizen. People count on you,” Lause said.

Lause said at her school, she and her staff look for the answers to attendance in the minds of their student leaders. She said her staff meets with student leaders periodically and asks them a simple question: What would make them come to school?

“We’re working with our kids to find out what they would be willing to come to school for and try to get their insight,” Lause said. “We’ve tried imposing what we think they want and the kids have sometimes said ‘Yeah, not so much.’”

Hayes said he’s encouraging the district’s principals to build bridges with students not unlike how Central has sought insight from its student leaders.

Adults throughout the district have been tasked with connecting with students who are heading toward chronic absenteeism, or when a student misses more than 15 school days a year.

He said having conversations with parents and having adults in the building reach out to the student can help avoid worsening attendance.

“We want to make a connection with every single kiddo and then make sure we have an adult that connects with them on a daily basis,” Hayes said, “so if they are gone they know that someone recognizes that.”