Bill Gates Unplugged

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

POLY H.S.: We Knew We Could

By Eddie Griffin

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It took a masterpiece strategy and a Herculean effort for Polytechnic High School to survive being axed for lagging academic performance. Everybody in Fort Worth pitched in to save historic Poly High.

From top to bottom, from the state legislature to the students themselves, everybody was on the same mission.

What is astounding about this story is that most everybody feared the worse, and the kids were walking around, cool, calm, collected, and confident that they would do it.

Like most people, I started with my doubts. As I saw it, we had to achieve Mission Impossible, a subject that generated some lively discussions and ideas between us. When I tried to pin the tail on the donkey, the chief academic officer assured me that this was Our Mission Impossible together.

How can you resist the ultimatum: Either you are part of the problem or part of the solution? And, the kids at Poly were already giving their all and all.

So, when I saw the Star-Telegram’s headline this morning, “Polytechnic High rated academically acceptable by the state”, I was not surprised.

We set out to achieve Mission Impossible, with somewhat of an overkill strategy. We poured it on, and on, and on, every hand on deck, every resource available.

It was school in the morning, school in the evening, on weekends, no holidays, the kids went for it like ice cream.

If you oversleep, you got a call. If you needed a way, someone would pick you up. Just to know that somebody cared for them. After all, this was a school sitting on hard hood turf. Few kids make it up out of here and go on somewhere in life.

The teachers kicked in on their part, tutoring in the morning, on free time, during off hours, whenever and however they could. They worked as a team, meeting in the morning, developing collaborative teaching strategies, with each reinforcing the other teachers’ subjects.

The Fort Worth business community kicked in also, with incentives and goodies, scholarships and awards. The local colleges provided volunteers and tutors, some calling themselves the G-Force, serving as navigators to the college-bound. Community Action Teams worked to generate parental support.

Soon the parents were as strongly involved as the student were confident in saving Poly High School.

“I knew we had it in us,” said Luis Ubanda Jr. victoriously as the reports from the state came in. “We had no doubt that we would make it.”


I saw this display of self-confidence in these students when I visited the campus in 2009, contrary to what I saw in 2006, when a group of us unveiled the new GO Center for the school. The Class of 2009 was a different class, with a different aim and different motivations.

WISH ME- I wish that I could capture it and put it in a bottle, so that it could be sold again and again, and released upon a generation like a magic spirit upon the head of each high school student. But the law of physics forbade me by this principal: Something set in motion from rest will gather momentum and lose it over time and distance. Therein is a natural tendency to scale back the force and reduce our effort.

SEEN IT BEFORE- After reaching the state’s highest rating of “exemplary” for two consecutive years after its turnaround, Trimble Tech High School regressed to an “acceptable” rating and has been holding steady for these many years.

When NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND, followed after the Bill Clinton's Teach America 2000 Act, we began seeing an upon trend in academic achievement standards. The logic behind this new educational stratum of milestones was base upon the recognition that we were living in rapid globalization and our kids were falling behind the rest of the world. The Education Department set forth to establish some minimum academic standards, with a key provision to raise those standards annually.

On the other hand, the public education system was stuck in stagnate mode. They were more accustomed to straight line progression, rather than an annual escalating academic target. Our educational efforts were more like trying to hit a moving target by shooting behind it.

The Fort Worth ISD, as of late, has put on its futuristic thinking mode, being the first and largest school district to introduce smart whiteboards into each classroom. The FWISD website is an all-you-can eat buffet of information, programs, times, schedules, schools, and classroom information, and soon mom get be able to pull up her child’s daily attendance and progress report.

The challenge now before is not another Mission Impossible, but a Possible Mission of achieving even greater heights.

Congratulations to the FWISD & POLYTECHNIC HIGH SCHOOL.
You made this history.

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