Principal Jeanne Goka has three different fruit cups on her desk. For years, the Ann Richards School has boasted the most fruit consumed in the district, and if the lunchtime rituals of the school’s principal are consistent, it’s safe to say her adherence to the school’s healthy and well-balanced diet isn’t just talk. Words lead to action, as Goka frequently reminds her students.
2017 marked 10 years of fruit cups for the school, its principal, and a handful of hardworking staff. But what does 10 years really measure for Principal Goka?
“[Ten years] is the snap of a finger, honestly,” she said.
Goka has been involved with the creation of the school since the very first inkling appeared, diving into research and studies on same-sex education, and even working alongside Governor Ann Richards herself.
“When I first got the job, she sent me a little note that said, ‘Great to have the Richards-Goka-Dubose family’ – Dubose being my husband – ‘together,’” she recalled. “So I felt really supported, by that one little thing, that one note. We built the school around her vision, her ideas, and her strong opinions – for example, the color blue, the star, those were all hers.”
But the school didn’t appear overnight without any challenges, as Goka remembers reading the comments of critics of the school’s promises.
“When we started the school, there were a lot of naysayers, and we had to prove them wrong,” she said. “And we did. We’re nationally ranked, and we’re well-respected, and then now, for the last several years, schools and educators from all over the nation are coming in here. They’re all seeing this little-bitty school, and what we’re doing that’s so innovative.”
So what does make the “little-bitty” Ann Richards school community so special? In Goka’s eyes, it’s the combination of the collaboration and –
“The sisterhood!,” she reiterated. “You know, when we take our girls to visit colleges and our [alumni] are there, and they run out to come see the Ann Richards girls even though they don’t know the new sisters. Well, I love that. Even though you might not appreciate it or like it at the time, it has value for your life afterwards, and that’s what we want. We want you to be able to take what you’ve learned here and apply it.”
Goka herself admits she’s taken what she’s learned from students and teachers and applied it to the school, taking full advantage of the 6th grade-12th grade design.
“I think what’s really great about having a 6th-12th model is that we see our mistakes and we see the good things we’re doing,” she said. “We have an opportunity to fix our mistakes. There’s this whole vertical sequencing beginning in 6th grade, so we’re constantly improving.”
Improvement in areas such as STEM inclusion and an increased emphasis on coding are two parts of the school’s development Goka is most proud of. And she is very, very proud of the school.
“When we started the school, we had this idea of collaborative learning. All of my research, everything shows women are more collaborative, they work together, they are not so ego-centric so that they can’t solve problems,” she explained. “And, you know what? I know we’re gonna have a Nobel Prize Winner. Our girls are going to rise to that. We’re going to have to have a pro-bono patent lawyer because we’re going to build something new and needed in the world. All of these things I think are going to culminate in a very different kind of school, you know? In ten years, thank goodness schools will look different. And be taught differently.”
Looking to the future, Goka sees a “modern” image for the school, both physically and within the students themselves.
“You can only imagine that once we knock down walls and clear out the way, imagine not having those constraints and being able to branch out,” she said. “And I really feel that the problems that need to be solved are going to be solved by women. They’re going to solve really serious problems, like the environment. And that gives me a great hope as I age out of this job, that that’s going to happen. It gives me so much hope and confidence in the future of this world and in humanity.”
Modern ideas can’t ride to the top without modern teaching, and Goka emphasizes the school faculty’s aptitude for the job.
“I think that these teachers here made this school successful, and continue to make this school successful,” she said with finality. “If we didn’t have the teachers, and then the [students] as a community, we wouldn’t have the school. Cause you can have all of the money in the world, and you can have all of the leaders in the world, and you could have great board members…but you can’t define success. We have to save public education. Because if we don’t, who will educate the student who can’t afford to go to private or independent schools, right?”
Without Ann Richards, there would be no school in the first place, as Goka spins story after story about the endless support she received from Richards prior to her death.
“When I think about it, it makes me teary because I know this is exactly what she wanted,” she reflected. “She would be here all the time, she’d be dancing in the halls. She’d be hugging everybody, she really would be. I think that if she were here today, this would be exactly what she’d want her legacy to be. What a tremendous gift she gave us… we can only hope we can give back, right?”