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Butte High administrators and teachers actively push better daily attendance to increase eventual graduation rates and to lower drop-out rates.

Attendance Officer Rick Rowling’s sole job is hunting down students who miss class or don’t show up at all.

“Every single day, he goes through every single kid that has a note or a call from a parent,” said Principal John Metz. “He calls the parent and the kid down to the office and says, ‘Where were you?’ to keep them in school.

“Every single kid who misses class he immediately tracks down. One or two days later doesn’t work.”

Attendance is tied in with Graduation Matters, an OPI initiative led by Superintendent Denise Juneau. OPI granted Butte High $10,000 to raise the level of awareness about the importance of attending regularly in order to graduate.

The school has bought computer licenses for teacher Becky Fisk’s "Grad Point" intervention program, which helps struggling students recover credits during regular school hours.

The school has also spent part of the grant on “Graduation Matters” billboards, banners, a fall pep rally tied into the initiative and fun rewards for elementary school students with high attendance, said Metz.

Students who struggle with attendance in high school usually started missing during grade school.

“If they’ve had chronic issues with attendance, it’s tough to change them when they’re 15 years old,” he added.

“The principals work hard at it – if a kid attends school on a regular basis they will do well. If they don’t we will find them the resources so they can do well.”

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Grad Coach Fisk is one such safeguard. She brings struggling students up to speed with online programs and one-on-one help.

Another is the district’s relationship with the probation office, as the Grad Coach program is a collaboration between the district and the 2nd Judicial District Youth Court Probation office.

“The goal is to provide services and interventions to our community that keep kids off probation,” said Tom Billteen, chief probation officer and Butte school board trustee.

Fisk provides academic support, career counseling, transitioning programs for 45 students ages 14 to 18, most of whom Billteen said are not on probation.

The Montana Supreme Court Office of Court Administrators, which oversees the local probation office, granted $55,000 to the partnership this year. It helps pay the grad coach salary.

“The students who are motivated and who want to graduate -- if that is their goal, they’re successful,” said Fisk.

Students qualify for the program if they need extra help with academics, have discipline or behavioral problems or are on probation.

It’s just that type of program that administrators bolster in order to give struggling students who may fall within the dropout versus graduation gap a second chance.

“Those kids who come back and finish that last semester – kudos to them,” said Judy Jonart, superintendent of Butte Public Schools. “We encourage kids to come back. It’s important that they finish.”

The state counts students twice a year. The next official head count will be out in mid-January, when Jonart and Metz will have a better idea of state-approved head counts and how it affects future funding.

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