Jerry Mandujano, a.k.a. the tracker, strides up the front staircase at Gage Park High. He holds a clipboard with computer printouts that display student photo IDs and class schedules.
The front line of a new strategy to curb class cutting, Mandujano is out to find these students. Although the school year is only three weeks old, each already has skipped class repeatedly.
One by one, Mandujano calls them out of seventh- and eighth-period classes for an explanation. His appearance turns heads in every room he enters. Dressed in suit and tie, Mandujano maintains a firm but pleasant tone and, after introducing himself, explains his new role.
“This year, I’m the tracker.” (Mandujano thinks the “tracker” has more of an “Arnold Schwarzenegger” edge to it than does “attendance officer.”)
“A tracker? What’s that?” asks one lanky boy.
“If kids cut class or miss school, I track them down,” Mandujano explains. Then he gets down to business.
The kids are full of excuses. Some seem plausible: Several claim they were legitimately absent; those he reminds to bring a note from home. Some excuses are suspect: One boy contends a security guard sent him to the office because he was tardy, a practice the school has discontinued. Mandjuano will check that out.
Interviews typically end with a quiz—”What’s my name? What’s my title?”—and a handshake.
Mandjuano, who occupies a teaching position, makes about 40 such visits a day as part of his job as a full-time attendance office.
The tracking system isn’t perfect. Busy teachers often neglect to submit cut slips daily, which would allow for swifter intervention. He can’t always get to every student. Those he can’t turn around after five cuts get referred to a counselor for a parent conference.
But teachers say he has converted a number of cutters into regular attendees.
After repeated searches, he located one freshman who was skipping a college preparation class to practice the piano, says teacher Ana Diaz. She couldn’t reach the boy’s mother, but after Mandjuano helped him organize his practice schedule, he stopped cutting, Diaz reports.
The personal attention makes a difference, notes Diaz. “The student sees that someone cares.”