Tom Latonis Breeze-Courier Writer
(PANA) — Members of the Pana School Board reviewed the district’s latest report card from the State of Illinois during its meeting on Monday night in the Unit Office on East Main St. District Curriculum Director Paul Donahue delivered the report which showed all of Pana’s public schools are ranked “commendable.”
One of the concerns the numbers show, said Donahue was the number of chronic absenteeism of both students and teachers. He said among students, the number is 11.3% of students who miss are than 10 days of school. Among teachers, the rate is 30% who miss 10 or more days.
“There is a definite impact when teachers are missing that many days,” he said.
He opined with the majority of staff being female, “They are the ones who take the kids to the doctor when they are sick, stay home with the kids when they are sick, take their kids to the dentists for appointments, more than males in most cases, not all. So you have them missing .”
Absenteeism was also effected by the COVID-19 pandemic as well.
Donahue said anyone on maternity or medical leave, those days do not count, nor do days a teacher is gone for professional development. He suggested giving contract incentives for teachers when the next contract is discussed.
The absentee rate is almost identical to the rate across the state.
“When we compare within the area, our teachers are actually ranked higher for attendance,” Board President Doug Kirkbride said. “It was just shocking for me to see 70-some percent attendance and you think, ‘wow.’ The way you explained it there’s a lot that makes sense there, but can we incentivize it or do something because this leads to an unevenness in education.”
“If your child is sick and they can’t go to day care, you have to stay home, and there’s no place for them to go,” Washington Elementary School Principal Cheri Wysong said. “If you’ve got elderly parents, you can’t take a child who’s vomiting or has a fever, because what if it’s RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) or influenza and those things going around so they end up missing a day or two.”
Kirkbride said he understands the dilemma faced by teachers and suggested considering day care for teachers who are in need of help.
“I’m just throwing it out there,” he said. “It’s outside the box, but I know there are businesses that do that.”
As far as student chronic absenteeism, it has risen to 11.3% in 2022. However, that is a drop from 2021 when it was 20.4%, but higher than 2020 when the rate was less than five percent.
Each of the four principals reported they are checking on the students who have more than 10 unexcused absences in the school year. Several commented they had gone to the homes to “wake-up” the students and bring them to school. At the elementary level, the principals agreed it wasn’t the students fault all of the time and sometimes parents are to blame for the absence. Letters are sent to parents after the fifth unexcused absence and on the seventh to remind parents the importance of attendance.
After the 10th absence, a doctor’s excuse is needed for absence due to illness, otherwise, the truancy officer is brought in to the situation.
Pana High School Principal Kevin McDonald gave the Board a list of items they are changing and doing to keep students on track. He said they are making an effort to boost student’s motivation and morale. Several of the remedial classes which were used in the past were “setting up one-third of our students for failure.”
McDonald said they are setting higher standards and are tracking students through their entire high school career, not just through 9th grade. For example, juniors will be taking Algebra II to help them with their math scores on the SAT. In the past, Algebra II had been offered later while the SAT is generally taken the junior year.
“A lot of the math portion of the SAT is Algebra II,” McDonald said. “When out kids take the test, they are lost when it comes to math.”
Board member Mark Beyers raised he question with colleges and universities making the SAT optional, why are students required to take the test?
“Because that test is what drives our report card. In Illinois, students are required to take the SAT,” said McDonald. “And a lot of colleges and universities are administering admission tests which are largely based on the SAT.”
Donahue said 41% of Pana students must take remedial math at the community college level. The state-wide average is 11%.
The drop out rate is at 5.7% for 2022, compared to 6.5% in 2021. The rate for 2020 was 2.6%; 2019, 4%; and 1.5% in 2019.
There was a lot of good news in the report which shows scores are improving in language arts skills and science scores have improved at several levels, including the junior high, according to Donahue. He said teachers have been working together to plan and promote the curriculum and they plan to continued their efforts.
The district report card as well as the report cards for the individual schools can be found at the school’s website, www.panaschools.com.
In other action, the Board approved the tentative tax levy for the school district. School Superintendent Jason Bauer said the Equalized Assessed Valuation has increased to almost $132 million in the three-county territory making up the school district. He feels the tax level rate will be maintained at $4.91 per $100 of assessed valuation for the coming tax year.
Buildings, Grounds and Transportation Director Jeff Stauder reported construction on the new elementary school is ahead of schedule. A lot of site preparation has been completed and if the weather cooperates, they may start pouring the concrete foundations in December.
A temporary power transformer at the site will be installed by Ameren next week with the cost projected at between $2,500 and $5,000.
Following an hour-long executive session, the following personnel recommendations were approved: Hired, Jay Kaiser, seventh grade boys basketball coach; Penny King, Dana Stalets and Brian Wood, substitute teachers; Tori England, District substitute; Alexis Roberts, substitute paraprofessional; and Jane Griffith, substitute nurse; and resignations from David Denton, bus driver and Christopher Hurlburt, delivery driver.
The meeting adjourned at 9:05 p.m.