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
An unstoppable principal's 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.
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.
“What can a book about a year in the life of a single school—a timeworn genre—tell us about the pressures facing the uneven, chaotic, increasingly data-driven American public education system? If that book is Michael Brick’s Saving the School, the answer is, quite a lot…”
“At once an inspiring portrait of a Texas principal's fight to reform her school and an indictment of the American education system.”
“Michael Brick details the down-to-the-wire efforts to keep Austin's once great Reagan High School afloat.”
“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.”
“A closely observed, vividly rendered narrative following one particular school as its principal, teachers, and students fight to keep the doors open in the face of No Child Left Behind.”
“The narrative is character-driven, with the spotlight on the principal, a science teacher, a coach-teacher and several students, one of whom is the star athlete. This approach works well. Even readers who know nothing about this particular high school are likely to relate to the heartfelt struggle to improve public education.”
“A great story of grit, character, and struggle.”
“Recommended for anyone interested in an inspirational story of a school beating the odds, and especially those readers looking for different perspectives on the debate about education reform.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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