How A. Maceo Smith High School Develops a Different Kind of Student

For one day, ordinary folks get to be principals at a Dallas ISD school.

Mural in A. Maceo Smith New Tech High School
Mural in A. Maceo Smith New Tech High School

Two years ago, during D’s literacy program, Big D Reads, we tricked the students at A. Maceo Smith New Tech High School into thinking that their history books were being removed from their school—and burned. At an assembly, we explained that the initiative was being launched at their school first because they’re into technology and would understand why books are no longer needed. The longer we discussed the initiative, the more the students grew concerned. Finally, they started voicing their opinions. They said that not everything on the internet is true. That we need books to learn about mistakes we’ve made in the past. That reading was important to their education.

Finally, a student in the front row got up and stormed out. As she ran past me, I saw she was crying. At this point, we decided to tell the students that it was all a trick, and in reality, we were giving the students a copy of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, provoking a discussion about a world without books.

The great part about this whole thing: it was the librarian’s idea—and the principal, Lisa DeVeaux, supported it.

I’ve been a fan of A. Maceo since then, but today was the first time I spent significant time with Principal DeVeaux as part of Dallas ISD and the Chamber’s Principal for a Day program. Today, 160 people from the community spent time at Dallas ISD schools eating cafeteria food, performing spot observations, and making announcements.

I enjoyed my time at A. Maceo. The staff spends a great deal of time in professional development. (I feel sorry for the teacher who was paired with me to discuss critical thinking. During the reflection portion of the discussion, I was busy Instagramming and didn’t reflect. When it came time to pair off and discuss, I added nothing to the conversation. Sorry about that, Wendy). The teachers are at the school 45 minutes longer than other high schools. The class periods are 90 minutes, instead of 45, which means that every single minute of the class has to be incredibly well thought-out. (You can make a presentation interesting for 45 minutes. But can you do it for 90?) Since the school practices project-based learning, there are a great deal of brainstorming sessions and creative outcomes. (For example, an upcoming English section on satire will have a Skype session with an Onion editor. I told them to look into the guy behind these as well). There was also talk of grit. All students are tested to see if they’re pre-AP. At A. Maceo, that’s not something the teachers are concerned with. From the way they see it, all the students are capable of being in AP. They just have to show their grit.

At the end of the day, the technology (everyone has a laptop that they can take home), the longer days, and the projects lead to a different kind of student. Or, as instructional coach Angela Davis put it, “We hope we’re sending students out, at least from this school, to be change agents.”

I know I met a few of those agents today.

It's hip to be square at A. Maceo Smith New Tech High School (actually, they're anything but square there, but it fit the photo).
It’s hip to be square at A. Maceo Smith New Tech High School (actually, they’re anything but square there, but it fit the photo).

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