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 Reform
by Michael Brick
Pub Date 16 Aug 2012
Anabel Garza: No school board would have put he forward as a model principal. Pregnant and alone a 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. Anabel took the assignment. Her first work was triage. She cruised the malls for dropouts. She fired ten teachers, including one who produced a ruler to bemoan the distance from the parking lot to her classroom door. She listened to angry lectures from union officials and angrier ones from black ministers. She kept going. She tailored each student's tutoring to the standardized tests. The numbers started to come up. But with the state education commissioner threatening to close the school, the real work began. 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.The circumstances facing Reagan High are playing out all over the country. The get-tough crowd of education reformers, led by Obama's secretary of education, are redoubling their efforts to replace public schools with charter companies. But what happens when the centerpiece of a community is threatened? And what happens when one person just won't quit? 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.