For years, the (mostly) well-meaning reformers of the numerical accountability movement labeled Reagan High School “academically unacceptable.” Promising students fled, test scores plunged and a once-great center of the community floundered. In 2010, students, teachers and parents in East Austin, Texas rallied around a tireless principal, raising test scores enough to save the school from being shut down for good. More importantly, they set the groundwork for returning the school to its vital role as a centerpiece of the community.
In the future I’d like to help create, Reagan High will become a sustainable success story. People in struggling communities across the country will be inspired to reinvigorate their local public schools as places where children can thrive together, rather than fighting for space aboard the life-rafts of private charter schools.
Completing the success story at Reagan High will require giving smart, ambitious neighborhood families a reason to come back to the school. Nothing could help more than the prospect of college scholarships.
Quitting my job as a staff writer for The New York Times, I spent the 2009-’10 school year reporting on the challenges at Reagan High. My book, “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,” will be published this summer by The Penguin Press. Readers will meet the amazing everyday people who refused to let their neighborhood school fall to the same forces that have closed thousands of schools across the country.
The kids, teachers, coaches and administrators at Reagan had the courage to let me into their lives while they faced down challenges including poverty, racial tension, the lure of the streets and the intense pressure of the accountability reform movement. This is my chance to pay it back – not just to them, but to everything they stood up for.