Judge recognized for fighting truancy

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Patenaude named Friend of Education

Joan Koehne Managing editor

Times Herald photo by Joan Koehne
Jim Patenaude, right, accepts the Friend of Education award from Oconto Falls School Board President Ron Leja. Patenaude, Oconto Falls municipal judge, was recognized for his no-nonsense approach to truancy.

An Oconto Falls municipal judge described as a no-nonsense sort of guy was recognized by the Oconto Falls School District as a Friend of Education for his role in combating truancy.

Jim Patenaude on Monday was honored for helping to develop successful truancy policies that have become a model for others.

“We set the penalties high. We charge the parents also to get them responding to the problems, and our results are pretty good,” Patenaude said.

When dealing with truancy, Patenaude orders performance reports, which include progress notes from the student’s teachers and information about attendance and grades.

“The better the reports, the more I drop the penalty,” Patenaude said.

If the reports show inadequate performance, Patenaude ups the penalties, which may include driving restrictions.

“I’m very proud of the results we’re getting,” he said.

Although known for his uncompromising approach to absenteeism, Patenaude shows a gentle side, also.

“I want to be a miracle worker,” he said. “I try to get everyone better at what they’re doing.”

The former Oconto Falls chief of police has been a municipal judge for the past eight years. He previously was employed as a sergeant of the Marinette Police Department, where he participated in juvenile training, which he said has helped him as a judge. The Oconto Falls resident owned a local supper club for 24 years and also worked as a rural mail carrier.

Lou Hobyan, Washington Middle School principal and former associate principal at Oconto Falls High School, nominated Patenaude for the honor, praising Patenaude for helping to develop an effective truancy plan.

“Our model that we developed has been the envy of school districts in our area,” Hobyan wrote in the nomination. The policies have been discussed at conferences at the local and state level, he added.

“It is very obvious that Mr. Patenaude stresses the importance of education and a student receiving his high school diploma,” Hobyan wrote.

Patenaude said he tells students, “You have a big future out there. Don’t blow it on stupidity.”

He emphasizes that no one is perfect, but if they get caught for truancy, they need to pay the penalty.

School Board president Ron Leja said the board is pleased with Patenaude’ s approach to truancy.

“On behalf of the board, we appreciate your help,” he said. “The importance of attendance at school … is even on the school report card, so your help is greatly appreciated.”

“Jim has been an outstanding person to work with,” Superintendent Dave Polashek said.