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

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

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by Michael Brick
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. “‘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. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Brick recounts the near-death of John H. Reagan High School, where students were failing standardized tests even as truancy and teenage pregnancy rates soared. Then Anabel Garza, pregnant at 16, widowed at 25, and an English teacher to Mexican immigrants, agreed to be principal. She hunted down dropouts, fired slack teachers, and individualized tutoring efforts while bringing back the old-fashioned aspects of high school, like plays, dances, and yearbooks. Inspiring reading.
Kirkus Reviews
The lively journalistic account of a troubled Austin, Texas, school that endured a year of tough medicine while facing shutdown. Opened in 1965 to great fanfare and team spirit, lauded by national leaders for its two state football championships in the late-'60s, John H. Reagan High School was beset by the classic concerns troubling much of the rest of the country's public schools from the 1990s onward. A huge increase in English language learners, rotating teaching staff, a spike in school violence and dropout rates and alarming slumps in test scores branded Reagan with "the stigma of failure." During the school year of 2009-2010, when Reagan was given one more chance to bring up test scores or face closure as part of the national get-tough approach to school reform headed by the new president, former New York Times reporter Brick immersed himself in the lives of the teachers and students at Reagan. He focuses especially on the formidable task faced by the school's principal, Anabel Garza. Arriving onboard in 2008, Garza worked tirelessly to try to restore some of the lost luster to the neighborhood school. Raised in Brownsville, having struggled herself to build a career from hardscrabble beginnings, Garza employed a combination of hands-on mothering, hectoring and toughness, inspiring teachers to expect all of their students to pass the standardized tests. Overall, instilling a sense of personal responsibility within the larger student body seemed to be the heartening key to this school's amazing success. This nondidactic journalist's record of one school's journey through the confounding stakes of recent reform makes for instructive reading.
The Washington Post
Michael Brick's Saving the School is a compelling, enlightening account of a school community rising to save itself in the unforgiving, data-driven, often nonsensical world bequeathed to public education by No Child Left Behind.
—Patrick Welsh

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594203442
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/16/2012
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.58(w) x 9.34(h) x 1.02(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Warren St. John
Through the compelling tale of Reagan High's spitfire principal, Anabel Garza, Michael Brick humanizes the policy debates over education and renders an empathetic and generous dry-point of teachers and students struggling to succeed against the odds. Saving the School is a poignant and moving read about the real toll of education reform on those charged with shaping our children's futures. (Warren St. John, author of Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference)
Gary Smith
Every day, in schools across America, a war is being fought for the hearts and minds of children in at-risk communities. We can choose to retreat from the front lines, or turn around and discover what the battle for our future looks and tastes and feels like. Read the first few pages of Michael Brick's book. You won't have a choice anymore. You're in the trenches. (Gary Smith, author of Sports Illustrated: Going Deep)
From the Publisher
“Through the compelling tale of Reagan High’s spitfire principal, Anabel Garza, Michael Brick humanizes the policy debates over education and renders an empathetic and generous dry-point of teachers and students struggling to succeed against the odds. Saving the School is a poignant and moving read about the real toll of education reform on those charged with shaping our children’s futures.”
—Warren St. John, author of Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference

“Saving the School is an amazing piece of reporting. Michael Brick has burrowed deep inside a failing American high school to write a dramatic, first-hand account of what it took to rescue it. Where most writing about education rests on statistics and policy-speak, this one probes the lives of the school’s remarkable principal, a teacher on the front lines, coaches, and several students. It’s a fascinating, real-time look at American education.”
—S. C. Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon

“Every day, in schools across America, a war is being fought for the hearts and minds of children in at-risk communities. We can choose to retreat from the front lines, or turn around and discover what the battle for our future looks and tastes and feels like. Read the first few pages of Michael Brick’s book. You won't have a choice anymore. You’re in the trenches.”
—Gary Smith, author of Sports Illustrated: Going Deep

“Michael Brick’s work tells the story of one school, and through vivid characters and muscular prose, tells the story of all schools. It’s a tapestry of modern America, of the things being lost and the things worth saving.”
—Wright Thompson, ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine

“A masterfully written, nail-biter of a book. Saving the School illuminates today’s high stakes education debates like no other work. A must-read for anyone who cares about the education of our nation's kids.”
—Dave Isay, Founder of StoryCorps

S. C. Gwynne
Saving the School is an amazing piece of reporting. Michael Brick has burrowed deep inside a failing American high school to write a dramatic, first-hand account of what it took to rescue it. Where most writing about education rests on statistics and policy-speak, this one probes the lives of the school's remarkable principal, a teacher on the front lines, coaches, and several students. It's a fascinating, real-time look at American education. (S. C. Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon)
Dave Isay
A masterfully written, nail-biter of a book. Saving the School illuminates today's high stakes education debates like no other work. A must-read for anyone who cares about the education of our nation's kids. (Dave Isay, Founder of StoryCorps)
Wright Thompson
Michael Brick's work tells the story of one school, and through vivid characters and muscular prose, tells the story of all schools. It's a tapestry of modern America, of the things being lost and the things worth saving. (Wright Thompson, ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine)

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