Students at Mann Elementary receive summer reading packages during a May assembly. (Photo by Joe Hadsall)

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Superintendent Grenita Lathan said about a year ago, joking, that she needed a year to prepare herself for getting doused with Gatorade, in the style of a sports championship-winning coach. 

Based on fourth quarter attendance results announced by Springfield Public Schools, Lathan's mental preparation likely won’t be wasted. 

Before the 2023-24 school year began, administrators in August launched an awareness campaign focusing on improving Springfield Public Schools’ attendance rate. 

The goal for the 2023-24 school year focused on improving the district’s average daily attendance rate. The target was 91.93%, a two-point increase over the previous year’s 89.8%. 

Lathan set the goal during the 2023 State of the Schools update organized by the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. If students could increase their attendance rate by two points, Lathan promised to subject herself to a sports drink downpour fit for a Friday night football game.

Members of Superintendent Grenita Lathan's administration team keep to her speech's sports theme by “dousing” her with balloons following her speech. Dr. Lathan promised to go for the full Gatorade dousing if the school system met one particular goal in the coming school year. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Springfield Public Schools launched a public awareness campaign for improving attendance, a key factor in a child’s education. SPS asked for help from parents and Springfield business leaders to reaffirm good attendance. 

Teachers, principals and other school officials used a variety of tactics throughout the school year to boost the rate, from grade-level competitions to promotions and prizes provided by community sponsors.

Official results will be announced at this year’s event, scheduled for Aug. 1 at Kickapoo High School. Stephen Hall, chief communication officer for the district, said that a final update on attendance will be made official, when the annual address is presented “with a special surprise” from Lathan.

An average of quarterly updates shows that the district hit that goal by almost a fifth of a percentage point: The averages reported to the Daily Citizen each quarter show a rate of 92.11%. The final rate takes into account other data that was not available until the end of the year, such as attendance in the Launch Virtual Learning program. 

Attendance is foundational to learning

Attendance has always been an important statistic to education leaders, but never more so than in the years that follow the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It is an important statistic used to determine how state government funding is distributed to public schools in Missouri. 

Thanks to an upcoming change in regulations approved by the Missouri General Assembly, hitting goals will be easier in the future — a multiplier in the education foundation formula that focused on average daily attendance will shift to enrollment. 

Schools will still be held accountable for attendance, however. The Missouri School Improvement Plan scores a school based on a proportionally weighted rate based on hours of absence.

Students gathered on a playground at Williams Elementary School in Springfield April 8, 2024, to observe the solar eclipse. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

But educators say attendance is also important for students, because it maximizes their ability to learn. Students who attend classes see better performance and confidence boosts, while absences deny them the chance to learn.

“We know when students miss, they get behind academically, and we might even see behavioral symptoms act out,” Lathan said in August.

Attendance has been a challenge in Springfield over the past five years. According to data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, SPS students lag behind the state attendance average. Springfield's attendance rate was the only blemish in the “Continuous Improvement” portion of the most recent results in the Missouri School Improvement program.

Progress throughout the year

Springfield Public Schools showed promise of surpassing the attendance goal all year. SPS calculates average daily attendance rate from tallying the number of hours in class and dividing that total by the number of minutes scheduled for each student. 

The rate was 93.02% in the first quarter, which surpassed a rate of 92.11% the previous year. While elementary students had the best performance during that quarter, all three sub-groups — elementary, middle and high school — showed increases.

In the second quarter, the district saw a similar attendance boost with a 92.19% rate that was increased 1.37% over the previous year. SPS charted a rate of 91.78% for the third quarter — encouraging numbers for months that coincide with winter illnesses and holidays. 

Fourth quarter numbers appear to show target hit

Students in all three sub-groups increased their attendance in the fourth quarter, with an overall rate of 91.44%, marking an increase of .76% over the previous year, according to a report from the district.

Elementary students saw the biggest attendance and increase, with its 92.72% rate growing by 1.12% over last year. Middle school students were at 91.5% and high schoolers clocked in at 89.59%, both increases over the previous year.

Based on the average between the four quarters, the district appears to have an attendance rate of 92.11%, surpassing the goal. The strong turnout in the first quarter and a lack of expected drops in the second and third quarters helped keep the rate competitive throughout the year, according to a Daily Citizen analysis.

The quarterly attendance reports do not take into account attendance in the district’s Launch Virtual Learning program, said chief innovation officer Ben Hackenwerth in March, after third-quarter numbers were provided.

Joe Hadsall

Joe Hadsall is the education reporter for the Hauxeda. Hadsall has more than two decades of experience reporting in the Ozarks with the Joplin Globe, Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine. Contact him at (417) 837-3671 or More by Joe Hadsall