Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Hype

For the past couple of years I've researched education practices in San Antonio and searched for the exceptions to the rule of mediocrity that has lingered in most of our inner-city schools for decades. I looked for examples of leadership that could advance entire schools, not just individual classrooms or special magnet divisions. Leadership that could demonstrate change and improvement not only in a long-term process, but one that immediately took place and was visible to everyone involved and even many who were not.

For quite a while I was unable to find any existence of this kind of leadership (outside of charter schools such as KIPP SA). That was until I ran across a 2001 Time magazine article written by Andrew Goldstein about San Antonio's Fox Tech High School (my father's alma mater). The article was titled "High Schools Of The Year: From Worst To First" and it featured a story about a school that went from being the lowest ranked high school in the state of Texas to a National Blue Ribbon school in the span of four years. (click for article) That was when I first saw the name Joanne Cockrell. I immediately searched for more information on this extraordinary administrator, expecting the previous article to be a bunch of hype. I then came across a 2001 article written by Rogelio López del Bosque, Ph.D. on the Intercultural Development Research Association website. (click for article) The article was seven pages and outlined the massive amount of changes made by Principal Cockrell and the affect experienced by fellow, administrators, staff, students and community members. After reading the article I knew it could be done. The change I was so eagerly looking for could be done and done without the much feared request of increased funding. The hype was grasping tighter.

Less than a year after reading about Joanne Cockrell, I spoke with Mr. Ed Garza, the first-term SAISD Board Trustee for Jefferson High and it's feeder schools. He had heard me reference before that I was infatuated with this legendary administrator whom I had read about in what had to be the fiction section of Time magazine. During our meeting he informed me that Joanne Cockrell was going to be his new Principal at Jefferson High School in the 2010 school year. The hype was spreading.

February 2010, local news station KENS publishes a report entitled, "Mustang miracle resuscitates struggling Jefferson High". (click for article) The writer of the article spoke about Joanne Cockrell as if Jordan was coming out of retirement, "Ms. Cockrell was retired.  She began teaching in 1965 for SAISD. Could she be lured back? Could she turn around Jefferson? The answer is yes, on both questions." The article mentioned that Jefferson had a graduation rate of 67% in 2009, but was "poised to graduate almost all its students for 2010". The hype was becoming unavoidable.

Upon returning from a six-month stay in sunny Iraq earlier this year, I decided to find a new route to engage the education system in my hometown. For the past couple of years I had been on a mission to force change from the outside at Sam Houston High School (my alma mater). I tried to pressure the decision-makers into doing what is right for the students and the community. I spoke at board meetings, PTA meetings, Principal's Coffee meetings, local community meetings, District 2 town hall meetings and I even presented an enormous amount of data during the recent school board election at several candidate's forums. I blogged, e-mailed, called and Facebooked. I mentored and tutored at Sam Houston High School weekly throughout the 2009-2010 school year, and while I met many extraordinary individuals, I still hadn't made a dent in the defunct system.

I then reached out to Mr. Garza and asked him if he thought Principal Cockrell would allow me to shadow her throughout the 2011-2012 school year. He had no doubts that she would and sure enough, she happily agreed. I had met Joanne Cockrell only a few times before, but the hype of the past couple years had overtaken me so much to where I felt like groupie. Yes, I had become a school administrator groupie.

I was finally able to sit down with Principal Cockrell today to explain, in person, what it is that I wanted to accomplish with this project. I truly expected to be disappointed by a lackadaisical attitude and an arrogant demeanor, because it is what I had been presented by other administrators at other schools. Instead I was met with a huge smile and a sincere "Hey gorgeous! How are you Brian? Have a seat!". Those three seconds explained to me why this woman had such an unbelievable effect on anyone that she worked with. It's the type of spirit that causes you to want to stay in the office a little bit longer just because you feel one hundred times better about what you are doing. It's the type of attitude that could compel you to follow an individual onto a battlefield (educational or other). Yes, I just hyped up three seconds with an individual to what you would consider an entire speech by General Patton himself. But just as Patton's record holds true, so does Cockrell's.

Our meeting lasted only about 15 minutes, but I felt like I could take on the world when I walked out of her office. She was more than delighted to hear that I would be following her around once a week for an entire year. She even began to breakdown her structure and agenda for the upcoming school year. This was definitely that example of leadership that I had been looking for for years. The hype is real.

The Mission

Education - the knowledge and development resulting from an educational process.

Advocate - one that defends or maintains a cause or proposal.

The purpose of this blog is to defend and maintain an educational process which allows our students to obtain a superior quality of knowledge and development, regardless of where that student resides.

In the past I have observed, critiqued and attempted to provide solutions to a broken education system. I have confronted administrations, staff, students, community members, local government officials and local school board officials. I attempted change from the outside; from a community member's vantage point. Unfortunately, that vantage point is not so advantageous. I was rejected and pushed away as a faulty school system remained deficient in the qualities and practices that make an institution of learning a success. As a result, I have chosen to temporarily move away from the point of the 'activist' and instead claim the role of the 'apprentice'.

Throughout the 2011-2012 school year, I will be spending time in the halls of Jefferson High School, an inner-city high school on San Antonio's Northwest side. I will be shadowing the veteran administrator Joanne Cockrell as she begins her second year as Principal in a school that previously represented many of our inner-city high schools; neglected, below average and fairly contented with both qualities.

In addition to observing the administrative operations of Principal Cockrell, I will also be interacting with fellow administrators, school staff, students, parents, community members and Mr. Ed Garza, who is entering his third-year as SAISD Board Trustee for the Jefferson High School community and its subsequent feeder schools.

I look forward to the opportunity to watch an environment of adversity be taken to a level of triumph. I am excited to witness the interaction between the different components that make a great school successful. Most of all, I look forward to spreading what I learn to those who are willing to listen. I will surely apply the practices I learn throughout this school year to my own operations in the future, but to know that I have helped distribute those same principles to others is the ultimate goal of this project.