HOULTON, Maine — With enrollment in RSU 29 on the rise, school officials are focusing their efforts on cutting down on absenteeism.
Official enrollment figures are collected in April and October for school districts and those numbers are what is used for the state’s school funding formula, explained RSU 29 Superintendent Ellen Schneider.
Schneider presented the enrollment data during an RSU 29 monthly board meeting Monday evening.
In September of 2015, the district had 1,333 students, while September figures for this year show the district stands at about 1,368 students.
“We have seen an increase of 35 students since last September,” Schneider said. “We are certainly pleased that our enrollment is up, but the one that counts comes Oct. 1.”
With the start of the current school year, the district decided to do an unofficial count of its student population and learned that Pre-K through second grade is now at 426, with additional students continuing to enroll. That figure is an increase of 17 students from a year ago.
Houlton Southside School (grades 3-5) currently has 300 students, an increase of seven students from a year ago; Houlton Middle School (grades 6-8) has 282 students, a decrease of three; and Houlton High School (grades 9-12) has 346 students, up 14 from last year.
Schneider attributed the increase to new families moving into the area, as well as an increase in the number of “Superintendent’s Agreements” with students from other districts wanting to come to RSU 29. A superintendent’s agreement allows a student from one district to attend school in another district for a variety of reasons.
With the start of school, the district is celebrating Attendance Awareness Month with a renewed push to get all kids to school on time, every day.
School officials said nationally, 5-7.5 million students miss nearly a month of school in excused and unexcused absences every year. For RSU 29 in the 2015-2016 school year, approximately 12 percent of the student population missed nearly a month of school with either excused and unexcused absences.
A “chronic absence” is defined by the district as missing 10 percent or more school days, or just two days every month. For RSU 29, that means a student has chronic absence issues if they miss 17 days of school.
“Our issues with attendance are no different than other districts face next door to us, down state or across the country,” Schneider said. “It’s a big educational issue.”
Last year, 17.5 percent those students at HES missed 17 or more days. Comparably, 15.1 percent at Southside, 12.4 percent at Houlton Middle School and 11.9 percent at Houlton High School missed 17 or more days of school.
Flyers were sent home with students on the first day of the school year, asking parents to try and minimize absences for their children during the school year.
“Attendance is an area of concern that rose to the top during discussion with staff,” Schneider said. “As a district, we are going to try and address that this year. We need to see if there are some things we can do that will make a difference.”