Class Skippers Get Called Out by New Principal
Attention former class cutters: how many times did you get caught when you were in school? Don’t lie. Skipping class may seem like it’s all fun and games until someone doesn’t graduate. It certainly stops being cool.
Hundreds of students at a high school in Pennsylvania learned that the hard way when someone started paying attention. When Lisa Love was hired as the new principal of Harrisburg High School in late January of this year, she came in with the intention to make drastic improvements. And she wasn’t playing around.
Noticing the lackadaisical attitude of the kids who were only excelling at nonattendance, she decided to make some cuts herself. She and her staff made an eye-opening discovery. Nearly half of the school’s population of roughly 1,100 have skipped more than 35 classes over a 9-week period.
Did you do the calculations on that? A tally and list was made of 540 kids who had been missing classes, and Principal Love issued suspensions for almost 100 students for one day. That major move caught the attention of parents, many of whom sent their children off to school every day thinking all was well. She noted the decision was not made lightly:
“We don’t like to suspend. I don’t even like talking about suspensions. But because we’re in a place where our school is a priority school, we need to send the message that we value education first.”
Staff learned that part of the problem was that the kids were showing up, but that they’d hang out in the building. Instead of attending class, students would hang in the cafeteria, hide in the bathroom, or lounge in the gym or locker room. They needed some motivation to change.A meeting was held for media and parents of the 500+ students whose names were on the list to explain the principal’s decision, and to offer them the opportunity to discuss attendance issues. Principal Love explained that this was a way to put students and parents on notice:
“If you’re not in class, all you’re here to do then is to wreak havoc upon the school, and disrupt the work that we’re trying to do here. And that’s to focus on student achievement.”
Parents were also able to talk with school officials about the unexcused absences, and given a chance to clear up the suspension off their child’s record with documentation. Though some were upset, others opened up about issues at home that may have been contributing to truancy.
Some of these students are learning that dipping out like Ferris Bueller just isn’t worth it when graduating is in jeopardy. At Harrisburg High School, Principal Love’s decision was met with mixed reactions from parents, with some thinking that suspensions just equate to more classes missed.
The message she hoped they would carry away from the meeting was that by working together, that test scores would go up as well as rates of attendance and graduation. She wants the community and schools to be partners, not adversaries.
What do you think about Principal Love’s tough love decision? Were you a habitual class cutter in high school? Tell us in the comments!