Sunday, October 18, 2009

At this year's Model Schools Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, I was lucky enough to listen to a presentation by Dr. Susan Szachowicz, principal of Brockton High School. I attended this session because I'd heard from others that this school has triumphed despite some serious obstacles and that everyone who left the session did so with tears in their eyes.

I, too, left with some tears, but also with a whole new courage to go back to my school and persuade coworkers, students, parents, and the community that it they can do it, so can we. I was reminded of this resolve when I read a recent Boston Globe article touting the successes that have been achieved at Brockton High. This article focuses on the amazing turnaround in MCAS standardized test scores of Brockton High's students and the intense focus on literacy at Brockton High.

When I saw Dr. Szachowicz, I was impressed with her "Boxer" attitude. (The school mascot is a boxer.) She came off as a no-nonsense, hard-lined professional who cares immensely about creating an environment where students feel supported and encouraged to overcome the poverty and hopelessness that surrounds their community. In our session, she described her vision for her school and how she drove out negative teachers who refused to work with her to achieve the high goals she set for her students and her staff. If a teacher disagreed with her about including direct literacy instruction in their classes, they were going to be looking for another job. If a staff member did not believe that Brockton High students could and should achieve high standards, they needed to go elsewhere.

This attitude may seem extreme, but it has turned a "failing" school into one of the greatest success stories in Massachusetts. Dr, Szachowicz really made me think about those colleagues and students I've heard who do not believe that our rural population is capable or willing to reach for high standards and to make literacy a priority in our community. We have to drive out these negative thoughts and feelings. If Brockton High, with a population of over 4,5oo students, can work together to create a small-campus vibe, then surely we can work to instill that same feeling of community and positivity in our rural population.

Kudos to the teachers, administration, students, and community of Brockton, Massachusetts, for exemplifying what is possible, rather than perpetuating a downward spiral of impossible.

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