Bryan Adams High School in the 1990s could be a rough place. Some students carried weapons, affiliated with gangs and used drugs in the dried-up creek bed near the campus. Fights regularly broke out in the hallways or cafeteria.

By 2006, the school had been rated academically unacceptable three years running.

Around that time, DISD brought on veteran educator Cynthia Goodsell, who entered the scene determined to rid the campus of gangs and violence and establish a curriculum that would give students the opportunity to succeed. In her three years, the school’s ratings climbed a notch to academically acceptable, and she worked to purge the school of overt gang activity by releasing almost 700 illegitimately enrolled students — a move that knocked Bryan Adams back into the “academically unacceptable” range, but which also set the school on course for redemption.

Bryan Adams has seen periods of “student unrest,” says drama and math teacher John McCollum, who has been at Bryan Adams the better part of the last 25 years. He left Bryan Adams for three years in the late 1990s to work in Cape Cod, then moved to Gaston Middle School in East Dallas before returning to Bryan Adams in 1997.

“When I came back, the school really didn’t feel happy,” he says.

Even when things looked bleak for Bryan Adams, McCollum and like-minded teachers and coaches provided light for students who wanted to learn.

Neighborhood resident Quentin Mendoza, a 1993 graduate, says even though he was aware of bad things happening around him, he had a good group of friends — “We kept each other out of trouble,” he says — and he had a mentor in McCollum, affectionately known as “Mac” by his students.

“He inspired us to step beyond ourselves and think outside the confines of our petty high school existence. At least half of the memories I cherish from Bryan Adams are a result of my involvement with theater and the influence of Mac,” Mendoza says.

“He and [a few other teachers and coaches] inspired me to focus my energy on developing my talents and intelligence, so the more dubious distractions of high school seemed a great deal less interesting.”

McCollum says he has always loved Bryan Adams (“I bleed kelly-green blood,” he jokes), but when the new principal came on board, she greatly improved campus life, he says.

“We became a much tighter ship,” McCollum says.

With almost 30 years of experience under her belt, one of Goodsell’s first moves was pinpointing and ridding the campus of unauthorized enrollees. There were about 700 students at the school who didn’t live in Bryan Adams’ attendance district. Removing the students caused temporary turmoil, she says. Some of the transferred students hung around the campus and committed petty crimes in the surrounding neighborhood.

And after enrollment dropped from 2,600 to 1,900, Goodsell faced criticism for costing Bryan Adams academic ratings — because the drop affected the “graduation rate”, which  is weighed heavily by the Texas Education Agency when determining school ratings — and money — since state funding for schools is based upon student enrollment. But as the dust settles, she says, the school is left with a more manageable student population.

After a student came close to dying from a drug overdose, Goodsell learned that students were using drugs near the creek along the campus perimeter. Goodsell says she found a way to keep students out of the creek area (she won’t reveal the secret). She curbed rampant tardiness (300-400 tardy reports a day) by corralling late students into “tardy tanks,” where she could weed out and punish the chronic offenders.

With the help of Dallas Police gang units, she identified nine active gangs and gang leaders within the school, met one-on-one with the gang leaders and let them know “there is only one gang between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. and that is Bryan Adams High School,” she says.

The students were surprisingly responsive, she says, and they even helped her rid the walls of longstanding gang-related graffiti. She enforced a school-uniform policy, turned the library and courtyard into a coffee house and reading plaza, and asked student-led advisory groups what was important to them.

“They said they wanted the bathrooms fixed up, so that was one of the first things we did,” she says. “They started to see that I would do what I said I would do — that’s when they began to buy in.”

But Goodsell says she couldn’t turn things around without the teachers’ cooperation. “Failure is Not an Option” is not only Goodsell’s credo, it’s also the name of a book by popular author and motivational speaker Alan M. Blankstein on which she based the school’s reforms.

She presented the plan for rehabilitation and “courageous leadership” to the staff and asked them to stand if they were willing to do things differently to bring about positive change. Every teacher stood, she says.

The enhanced quality of campus life made for a richer learning environment, she says, and test scores improved. The sense of pride once experienced by only a select few began to spread among the students and throughout the community.

“It’s safer, cleaner … we had a carnival. It’s been a long time since the community flocked to Bryan Adams,” McCollum says with a smile.

For some of today’s students, the fear that once permeated the Bryan Adams community is a thing of the past.

“We hear stories about the fights that used to happen,” says junior Jenae Green, one of McCollum’s students.

“Kids used to hope for fights to get broken up, and no one would come until it was way out of control. Now we can barely toss something across the table in the cafeteria, and someone is there to stop it.”

Green, her brother Gerame, a 2009 graduate, and Kelsey Cook volunteered at the school during the summer, helping McCollum with a few projects.

It comes as no surprise to any of them that Mac was honored as last year’s DISD Teacher of the Year.

“He knows how to handle any situation — he is relaxed, but he definitely has the respect of the students,” Gerame says.

McCollum credits his students for the district-wide honor.

“It’s the theater kids who have done a lot of work for the school. I guess they attribute my good kids to me.”

He’s not the only Bryan Adams staff member recognized for achievements last school year. Stacey Segal was honored as DISD athletic director of the year, and Goodsell was named DISD principal of the year.

Goodsell also accepted a promotion to lead the West Secondary Learning Community, where this school year she will manage 43 DISD principals. Administrators believe she can mentor other principals dealing with some of the difficult issues she has addressed.

“Cindy Goodsell has done an incredible job of turning things around,” says Donna Micheaux, DISD’s chief administrative officer. “(She) has created a culture and climate for success at a lower-performing school.”

When discussing her promotion, Goodsell tears up at the idea of leaving Bryan Adams behind (at press time, her successor had not been named).

“This has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” she says.n


WANT MORE?
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.