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Si Se Puede!: Learning from a High School That Beats the Odds

reviewed by Donald K. Sharpes - May 13, 2010

coverTitle: Si Se Puede!: Learning from a High School That Beats the Odds
Author(s): Ursula Casanova
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807751022, Pages: 128, Year: 2010
Search for book at Amazon.com

From the earliest historical times, schools have been places set aside by society where the young are required to learn physical, mental and occupational life skills as preparation for entry into adult society. Lately, despairing of how poorly many schools are instilling these skills, more parents have decided to school their children at home. Public schooling is under siege from parents who seek a range of alternatives to schools that are failing.

The role of effective schools is sufficiently documented. But finding the right combination of effective administrative and teaching personnel to create the best possible learning environments has been a challenge.

There are exceptions. If you havent had an opportunity to read about a case study of a school that consistently has high expectations for all students and has been successful academically for traditionally lower-achieving Hispanic students, Ursula Casanovas concise and trenchant book Si Se Puede! Learning from a High School That Beats the Odds is just what you have been looking for. She investigated the schools setting, interviewed its leadership, faculty and staff over a period of four years to obtain a personalized and dynamic account of how to raise the achievement bar. Amazingly, the leadership tradition of striving for excellence continued through several administrations over two decades.

Casanova organizes her description around five themes: High Expectations, Leadership, Counseling and Guidance, English for English learners, Continued Improvement, and Alternative Paths to Success. She adds just the right amount of scholarly background from the most cogent literature on school effectiveness, integrates it seamlessly into the narrative, and does not burden the reader with unnecessary bibliographic citations.

When the school was established only 20% of Yumas population had graduated from high school. Her descriptions of successful individual students she interviewed are endearing and characteristic of how successful a school and dedicated teachers can be in transforming student lives and careers, even though the majority of non-English speaking students do not usually graduate from Americas public high schools. But at Cibola over the years, over 80%, most of them at-risk students, did graduate and move on to higher education.

She reports on the demographic conditions of the city and school midway through the narrative, but it would have been more helpful to have that information nearer the beginning for a more comprehensive context. A couple of charts or tables showing the socio-economic conditions in Yuma and the numbers of English Language Learners would have been useful. I know that many Californians have recently moved to Yuma to escape the over-crowding and harsh economic realities of southern California. It would have been instructive to know how many of these were Latin imports and their children or just White Americans escaping a tough economy.

One of the most significant conclusions I noticed that was not emphasized enough were her observations about how well faculty and staff interacted personally with students from the schools beginning in 1988. This sense of interpersonal and heightened social interaction is a key to enhanced trust. I believe that it too, like high expectations, is a valuable ingredient in forming a cohesive bond between all members of the school team.

Hiring the best people, and convincing them to apply in the first place, is a major step in achieving a schools sense of elevated purpose. Over time the high expectations of a high achieving school become embedded in its ethos, and are sustained by a constantly reinvigorated energy from the faculty and a living history for existing students from the stories of former graduates. We can all be inspired by an educational vision and its successful implementation over decades.

Yes We Can, was Barack Obamas campaign slogan. But Casanova makes it equally and cleverly fit a high achieving high school.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 13, 2010
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15982, Date Accessed: 1/30/2022 1:48:25 PM

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About the Author
  • Donald Sharpes
    Arizona State University
    E-mail Author
    DONALD K. SHARPES, Ph.D. is Professor in the Emeritus College at Arizona State University, a former research associate at Stanford University and director in the U.S. Department of Education in Washington DC. He has taught at the universities of Maryland, Maine, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Utah State, Weber State and Arizona State. He did postdoctoral studies at the University of Sussex, was a Visiting Scholar at Oxford University in 19981999, and has lived and worked in Asia and the Middle East. He has authored 19 books and over 240 articles in the social and behavioral sciences, humanities, and teacher education. In 2008 he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Studies group of the American Educational Research Association. In August 2010 and thereafter he will be an Associate Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge.
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