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 (Hardcover)
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 The New York Times reporter and sportswriter, has written feature stories from Alaska to Brooklyn to Mexico, including contributions for the Pulitzer Prize-winning project Portraits of Grief. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Stacy, and their children. Inspired by Anabel Garza and the teachers at Reagan High, they've started a scholarship fund for students at the school. Information is available at www.savingtheschool.com.
Praise for 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 …
“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…”
—The Daily Beast
“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.”
—Parade Magazine, Parade Picks selection
“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.”
—The Dallas Morning News
“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.”
“A quickly paced book that helpfully illuminates some of the current debates in public education.”
—Christian Science Monitor
“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