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.