Johnston schools see boost in student attendance

Attendance 2JOHNSTON, Ia. (August 31, 2023) — As the new school year gets underway, the Johnston Community School District is celebrating some success with student attendance — and planning to use that as a way to boost student achievement.

Data from the school district shows that attendance increased between 1 and 5 percentage points last school year at all eight of the district’s school buildings — Beaver Creek Elementary, Horizon Elementary, Lawson Elementary, Timber Ridge Elementary, Wallace Elementary, Summit Middle School, Johnston Middle School and Johnston High School. The increase in attendance represents about 90 students at Johnston High School alone.

“This increase in attendance is significant, and can be attributed to an increased emphasis on attendance districtwide,” said Chris Billings, Johnston’s executive director of school leadership. “We know that having our students present in class is a key step in improving student achievement across the district.” 

Attendance Data

School  2021-22 2022-23 % Change
Beaver Creek Elementary 82% 84% +2%
Horizon Elementary 86% 91% +5%
Lawson Elementary 90% 92% +2%
Timber Ridge Elementary 88% 90% +2%
Wallace Elementary 90% 91% +1%
Summit Middle School 85% 89% +4%
Johnston Middle School 82% 86% +4%
Johnston High School 73% 78%  +5%

Data from Panorama: Student Success  (State Intervention Data Site)

Contributing to the boost is a new rule at Johnston High School that requires attendance at all classes for students to participate in athletics and activities that day. The rule was implemented last school year, and continues to be emphasized and enforced by coaches as school gets underway this fall.

“We emphasize to our athletes and activities members that they are students first, so their attendance in class is vital,” said Heather Semelmacher, Johnston’s activities and athletic director. “Our school’s policy states that if a student is not in attendance in class, they cannot participate in athletics or activities after school unless they have an excused absence.”

Billings said improvements in student attendance can also be attributed to new efforts to be consistent with students who don’t show up.

For students with chronic absenteeism, Johnston implemented a six-step process that starts with attendance letters, moves to attendance contracts and a district attendance mediation.  The process can include a referral to Polk County Truancy Court if previous interventions are unsuccessful. However, the emphasis is on building and district interventions.  

Those efforts resulted in a decrease in chronically absent students in the Johnston Community School District, from 19% in 2021-2022, to 15% in 2022-2023.