Attending to Absence

Attendance Coordinator Susan Prutton retires after 11 years as a faculty member and volunteer

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Michael Eng and Nicole Tian

About 20 minutes into third period, Attendance Coordinator Susan Prutton has just begun to keep track of the 794 students at the upper school. With her eyes fixed on the monitor screen, she picks up the phone, starting with “Hey, can you take attendance for me?” and ending with a smile, “Thank you” and “Bye!” This time she dials a different number, exclaiming, “Oh, I can hear all the laughter in the background!” before gladly joining in herself. 

Matching her lighthearted demeanor, the attendance office exudes comfort, washed with the soft light of a chestnut lamp that doubles as a coat rack. 

Pictures of street art layer the walls, along with a poster of English rock band Florence and the Machine with its printed bloom of flowers standing in stark contrast to the nearby Banksy artwork framed in black. A familiar floor-to-ceiling poster of Big Ben remains plastered near the art collection as a reminder of her home, its hour and minute hands stranded in time. To add to the British spirit, a bright red scarf promoting Arsenal F.C., Prutton’s favorite “proper football” club, is draped across the back wall, nestled between the senior collages of her two children, Hannah (‘13) and Michael (‘11).

After 11 years at the upper school, Prutton will be retiring on Thursday, Sept. 12, to spend time with family in England. Prutton’s connection to Harker goes back 18 years ago, starting as a parent and volunteer in 2001. She actively participated in the Harker community and helped out with school trips. After volunteering for the fashion show for multiple years, she was asked to chair the event in 2008, eventually becoming the Director of Volunteer Programs at the upper school the same year. In 2012, she stepped in as the Attendance Coordinator.

Arriving by 7:40 on most days, Prutton usually begins the day by sorting through messages from parents about absent students and writing tardy slips. She then emails all the information to the teachers by about 10:30 a.m. and continues to track students at the beginning of each class period. Aside from attendance, Prutton also manages permission slips and organizes travel itineraries for various programs such as speech and debate or journalism.

“Depending on how bad the day is, sometimes I’ve done more than a hundred [late slips],” Prutton said. “I’ve done close to 200 if we have an accident in front of the school, or it’s really heavy rain, and when it’s really high, then I excuse them all.”

Though receiving a late slip is never appealing due to the possible detention after receiving more than two in a quarter, Prutton lightens up the experience by occasionally adding in humorous excuses as well as accepting them from seniors. 

I also figure with all of you, I don’t want to make coming to the attendance office miserable, right?”

— Sue Prutton

Some of her favorites are “existential crisis,” from Sian Smith (‘19) or “An elephant was blocking my driveway!” from Charlotte Blanc (12). This tradition first began four years ago, when she started writing them for seniors during their second semester. Not only do they brighten up each student’s morning, but they have also become an integral part of the campus, tacked on teacher’s bulletin boards and even included in senior time capsules.

“It makes [students] think and get them more excited at the start of the day,” Prutton said. “And it makes me laugh all the time. I also figure with all of you, I don’t want to make coming to the attendance office miserable, right?”

Senior Mihir Sharma proudly holds three spots on the “Wall of Fame,” a collection of the best excuses that students have given so far displayed on a cabinet in the attendance office. In order to add a flair of competition, the winner receives Pocky.

“[Ms. Prutton’s] really friendly, and she always does her best to deal with scheduling conflicts in terms of missing class, and she’s just fun to talk to,” Mihir said.

In her 11 years at Harker, Prutton has played a role in every corner of the community, whether it be by adding a bit of joy at the start of the day with comical excuses, setting a candy bowl in her office open to everyone or routinely calling teachers to remind them to take attendance. Sometimes, her calls are met with witty responses. 

“I will usually answer in some ridiculous way, like ‘Hi, you’ve reached Trader Joe’s celery department.  How may I help you?’” Business and Entrepreneurship teacher Samuel Lepler said. “She’ll be like ‘Can you please take roll?’ And I’ll be like ‘Take roll? I’m afraid we don’t have any rolls, that would be the bread department–would you like me to forward you?’ She would always play along and have a good time with it.”

Apart from the playful banter that takes place at school, Prutton loves to watch the tide pools by the beach and attend concerts from bands such as Mumford and Sons to a current favorite, The 1975. In addition to contemporary rock groups, every week she listens to the UK Top 40 Singles Chart to “find out what’s happening in England right now.”

Despite the prospects of spending time in the country with her family or attending the Glastonbury Festival, Prutton will miss and cherish the moments spent during her time at the upper school and hopes to send a well-wishing message to the students and faculty.

“I think you’re a really cool group of people, and it’s wonderful to spend time with you every day, even the students that I see all the time because they’re constantly late,” Prutton said. “I do truly wish you all the best, and I hope none of you stress out too much.

And as a parting piece of advice:

“It will all work out in the end; otherwise, it isn’t the end,” Prutton said.

Additional reporting by Michael Eng.