Sunday, April 14, 2013
Saving The School
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
The Penguin Press, New York, 2012
The American and British school systems are quite different and I was particularly glad to be allowed to review this book to gain a better insight into the American public school setup.
Just as in Britain, there are areas where the economic and social demographics have changed substantially over the years and some schools have been left with only the poorest children attending, whose families have been unable to afford to move away or send their children to schools in more affluent neighbourhoods.
This is the story of Anabel Garza, a dedicated maverick teacher/administrator who was determined to save Reagan High, a failing high school in Austin, Texas, which had plummeting student numbers, even lower attendance rates and a student/teacher self-esteem ratio to match. The authorities seemed far more inclined to simply close the school for its low academic standards and bus the kids to other schools than to actually identify the problems and act upon them, and Garza was given the challenge of raising standards. Standardised testing - seen as the be-all and end-all by the education authority - was doing more to destroy neighbourhoods than anyone could have guessed.
She was determined to change things for the better in the short deadline she was allotted, to the extent of driving to students' homes to get them out of bed and into school in the mornings, encouraging them to take care of themselves, dress and groom themselves and believe in themselves as essential prerequisites to actually getting them to learn. Disaffected and demotivated staff were fired and a team spirit fostered among the remaining staff that they could, should and would improve the school and give the students real hope for their futures.
It was a difficult and often thankless task, with little apparent real support from the powers that be, but Garza was determined to enlist the support of the local community and the youngsters themselves. It was a long, hard task, but the staff were determined to give their students every possible chance at succeeding in the next round of standardised testing, teaching them how to study, how to learn, how to behave in properly in class - all things which should have been addressed many years before in their school careers, and it does make the reader wonder what on earth many of the original staff who had been fired had actually been doing at the school for so many years for standards to have slipped so badly.
The ultimate success story gives huge insight into the lives and backgrounds of the staff and students at this school as well as identifying the problems inherent in the public school system. I found it an interesting read indeed.