Lisa Love had only been the principal of Harrisburg High School for a few months, but she immediately noticed a concerning trend among the students — most of them had racked up an alarming amount of unexcused absences from class. She decided that something needed to be done to correct the problem, so a new approach was needed if new results were expected.
"The problem I've noticed here as principal is that students are coming to school but they are not going to classes when they get here," Love said, according to PennLive. “Many parents send their kids to school and they're thinking they're going to class. I needed to reach out because of the enormous number not going to class.”
Principal Lisa Love decided to suspend every single student who had an excessive amount of unexcused absences from the school, which has long struggled with poor test scores and a low graduation rate. Love said she could not improve academic achievement at the school if students don't even bother to show up.
"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 are trying to do here…to focus on student achievement," Love said, according to ABC27. "And a lot of times doing transformational work means that you have to do some radical things to get the attention of parents and the community and students.”
Assistant Principal Keith Edmonds said that the benchmark used to establish what constituted "excessive" absences, which earned students a suspension, was 35 missed classes within a 45-day marking period without providing proper documentation. That number represents a week's worth of missed classes or seven classes per day in a five-day week.
The students hang out in bathrooms and empty areas of the school to get out of going to class and hid the absences from their parents. "Right now, the process is just to weed out where our issues are so that we can properly address them," Edmonds said.
Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney backed up Principal Lisa Love's decision to issue suspensions to half of the students at Harrisburg High School, saying it should be a “wake-up call” to parents in a school district where the graduation rate is more than 30 percent lower than the statewide average.
"In order for us to get different results, we have to do something different,” Knight-Burney said. “We can't do the same ol same ol' and then complain about it when we're getting the same ol' results.” Indeed, that would be the definition of insanity.
"This was a hard decision for me to make," Principal Lisa Love said of the suspensions. “I had to get the attention of the community to let them know that we are here. And we're about to do some wonderful things for students and the community, and we want this to be a school that everyone is proud of. And this was probably the eye-opener we needed to make that happen.”
In a demographic where the graduation rate is so low, the obvious culprit is a lack of parental involvement. It certainly sounds as though the mothers and fathers of the students at Harrisburg High have no clue what exactly their children are doing all day long. Hopefully, all those suspensions served as the wake-up call that they desperately needed.