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Saving the School: The True Story of a Principal, a Teacher, a Coach, a Bunch of Kids, and a Year in the Crosshairs of Education Reformby Michael Brick
Synopses & Reviews
A race to save a failing high school from falling short of its numbers and closing its doors forever.
Anabel Garza: No school board would have put her forward as a model principal. Pregnant and alone at sixteen, widowed by twenty-five, Anabel got along teaching English to Mexican immigrants, raising her son, and taking night school classes.
But then no model candidate would have taken the job at John H. Reagan High School. Once known to sports fans across Texas as the great champion Big Blue, Reagan was collapsing. The kids were failing the standardized tests, failing on the basketball court, failing even to show up. Teenage pregnancy was endemic. If the test scores and attendance did not improve, the school was set to close at the end of the 2009-10 school year.
The first work was triage. Anabel cruised the malls for dropouts. She fired failing teachers, only to listen to angry lectures from union officials and angrier ones from black ministers. She tailored each student’s tutoring to the standardized tests. The numbers started to come up. Anabel set out to re-create the high school she remembered, with plays and dances, yearbooks and clubs, teachers who brought books alive and crowded bleachers to cheer on the basketball team. She reached out to the middle schools, the neighborhoods and the churches. She gave good teachers free rein. She mixed love and expectations.
Around Anabel, teachers and coaches with conflicting ideas about how the school should be run also confronted a host of challenges. Coach Derrick Davis was trying to revive Raider athletics around a potential NCAA, three-sport wunderkind, JQ. Candice Kaiser, a science teacher who left a hard partying past when she found faith, was trying to help kids pass the state exam while broadening their horizons. Meanwhile, a diverse and tight-knit group of students balanced the demands of adolescence with the very adult problem of a school in crisis.
The circumstances facing Reagan High are playing out all over the country. But what happens when the centerpiece of a community is threatened? For the first time, we can tally the costs of rankings and scores. In this powerful rejoinder to the prevailing winds of American education policy, Michael Brick examines the do-or-die year at Reagan High. Compelling, character-driven narrative journalism, Saving the School pays an overdue tribute to the great American high school, and to the people inside.
"Former New York Times reporter Brick presents a well-researched look at John H. Reagan High School in Texas, which was on the verge of being shut down until an unlikely principal — a widowed mother named Anabel Garza — came along. While the topic is indisputably timely and important, and the book offers a concrete, story-driven look into U.S. education policy, the prose and characterization fall short. Scenes that could be compelling often read like dialogue from a television script. 'Ã¢Â€Â˜People used to pick on me too. If you let them get the better of you, they'll just keep doing it. You need to turn away,' says a 'school improvement facilitator' who looks 'like he'd stepped out of a buddy cop movie.' The reader may question whether the school, with its high dropout rate, teen pregnancies, and academic failures, should be allotted the resources to be 'saved,' which speaks to Brick's decision to let the story speak for itself rather than tackling larger questions. He focuses on Garza's and others' efforts and involvements in ensuring a future for Reagan High. Despite the project's high stakes, Brick's reliance on trite quotation and magazine-style storytelling may interfere with the book's ability to reach a wide audience. Agent: Elyse Cheney, Elyse Cheney Literary Associates." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In the race to save a failing public high school, one principal finds that making the numbers is only the beginning
Being principal of Reagan High in Austin, Texas, was no dream assignment. Test scores were low, dropout rates were high, and poverty was endemic. But when Anabel Garza took the job, she started something no one expected. Racing against a deadline just to make the numbers, she set out to rebuild the kind of school that once unified neighborhoods across America. By her side, a basketball coach showed kids they could be winners, a young science teacher showed them they could learn, and a community rallied around a treasured institution. In this powerful rejoinder to the prevailing winds of education policy, Michael Brick takes readers inside the high-pressure world of a school on the brink. Paying overdue tribute to a vital American tradition—the great American high school—Saving the School exposes the flaws of a broken system but also tells an inspiring story of faith, hope, and perseverance.
Inside the race to save a great American high school, where making the numbers is only the beginning
Being principal was never her dream. Anabel Garza, the young widow of a young cop, got by teaching English to immigrant children, taking college classes at night and raising her son.
And Reagan High was no dream assignment. Once famous for its state football championships, educational achievements and award-winning design, the school was a shadow of its former self. “Identified for improvement,” said the federal government. “Academically unacceptable,” said the state. Promising students were fleeing. Test scores were plunging. The education commissioner set a deadline of one year, threatening to close the school for good.
But when Anabel took the job - cruising the mall for dropouts, tailoring lessons to the tests, firing a few lazy teachers and supporting the rest – she started something no one expected. As the numbers rose, she set out to re-create the high school she remembered, with plays and dances, yearbooks and clubs, crowded bleachers and teachers who brought books alive.
And soon she was not alone. There was Derrick Davis, a star player on the basketball team in the early 1990s, coaching the Raiders toward a chance at the playoffs. There was Candice Kaiser, a science teacher who had left hard partying behind for Christ, drilling her students on chemistry while she drove them to games, tutoring sessions, Bible studies and sometimes even doctors’ appointments. There were JaQuarius Daniels, Ashley Brown and 900 other kids trying to pass the exams, escape the streets and restore the pride of a neighborhood, all while still growing up.
Across the country, public schools face the threat of extinction in the numerically ordained churn of the accountability movement. Now, for the first time, we can tally the human cost of rankings and scores. In this powerful rejoinder to the prevailing winds of American education policy, Michael Brick takes us inside the high-pressure world of a school on the brink. Compelling, character-driven narrative journalism, Saving the School pays overdue tribute to the great American high school, and to the people inside.
About the Author
Michael Brick, a former New York Times reporter and sportswriter, contributed to the Pulitzer Prize-winning series "Portraits of Grief." His work has appeared in Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, and Real Fighter. He lives in East Austin, Texas, with his wife, son, and daughter.
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