Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reagan Raiders Go for Rigor

With her usual smile and proud sense of determination, Principal Anabel Garza met us in the office area of Reagan. She is proud of the work that is beginning on the Early College High School model there.

Reagan has struggled academically in past years. That’s a known fact. But no more. Rated Acceptable in 2010, the school is changing dramatically! Reagan and LBJ high schools are both working with the Texas High School Project, under the direction of Associate Superintendent Edmund Oropez, to create this exciting model for the first time in Austin. The sense of new pride is now everywhere at this East Austin campus.

We entered Ms. Kaiser’s chemistry class where students were engaged in a lecture including visual models. Principal Garza explained the school’s emphasis on rigor in instruction. This was evident in the teacher’s questioning strategies. Reagan is focused on preparing students to be prepared at an earlier age to qualify for college entrance. This TSI readiness will assure participation in college credit courses.

Reagan is working closely with its vertical team to align instructional practice and working towards increasing students’ academic experience. The school is preparing students and creating targets to increase participation in Pre-AP, AP, as well as dual credit courses through Austin Community College.  The goal is to raise academic standards to assure more students are commended on state assessments.

Supports for families are also an important part of the Reagan success. The school has created a Family Resource Center to engage and support students and their families, and work with students to be college-bound. Social workers, collaborating with Communities in Schools, have targeted dropout recovery, and delivered Project Advance strategies with this goal in mind. They are even using ARRA funds to collaborate with the City of Austin to intervene with families and try to stabilize living situations for their students.

Our next stop was the U.S. History class of teacher Joe Underwood. A certificate showing his degree in History and English from Mary Hardin Baylor University was displayed over his door, modeling for students the value of college. This teacher was inviting and engaging. Every student listened with interest as he explained the plight of the Pilgrims’ 1620 landing in Plymouth instead of Jamestown (where they had intended to settle), and the subsequent development of the Mayflower Compact. He distributed copies of the compact, set up their reading assignment with clarity, created a pair-reading partnership, and motivated students to read for understanding and — most importantly — to not give up on the unfamiliar language of the 17th Century document.

I sat with two students to discuss the compact. Mr. Underwood had done a fantastic job of helping the students understand how this document laid out the first democratic principles of self-governance in the emerging colonies. I came away impressed with the rigor of the lessons, both in chemistry and history. Thank you, Mr. Underwood and Ms. Kaiser.

Leaving Reagan, we met custodian Maria Becerra who has a love for the outdoors, and keeps the grounds clean, neat, and green. The orderly lawn, shrubbery, and flower beds add to this school’s climate and care and excellence. Its motto, Not Without Honor, is very appropriate for this home of the Reagan Raiders!