Steve Poizner was ready for a new challenge. He’d already started and sold two successful businesses in Silicon Valley, the second one selling for a billion dollars. He wasn’t interested in retiring just in his 40s, and he wasn’t looking to do the same thing again. Having valued education since his earliest years, he decided to apply his particular set of skills and knowledge to schools. Surely he could find a way to make a difference to some students in his own area. So he went in to the San Jose school district and asked if he could “teach or assist in any capacity” in a high school classroom. He was shocked when he was turned away by an administrator and phone calls to a number of principals went unreturned — until just one invited him in to talk. It was at that school — Mount Pleasant, not far away from his house as miles go, but light-years away in terms of economics and opportunities — that Poizner was given the chance to get involved.
At first, he was only allowed to observe, then he was given the opportunity to guest lecture. Then, after observing and trying to get to know the staff and the culture of the school for a few months, Poizner was granted a shot at teaching for one semester: a senior class in American Government. He gave it his all, finding that it was definitely a challenge. The students usually seemed to have little interest in learning or in extending themselves, and they were often put out by his expectation that they write papers — it wasn’t an English class, after all. Their parents weren’t always supportive, and they didn’t have many other advantages either. But he kept at it and saw the semester through, learning a great deal along the way.
Poizner shares his experiences of this year at Mount Pleasant in his book in a conversational style, giving some of his educational, family and business background along the way. The book is interesting and readable. Poizner doesn’t work any miracles in a short time, in Hollywood fashion, and he doesn’t necessarily come across as a hero. But he does come across as a man who sincerely wants to do something positive with his time and resources, who wants to learn and make a difference in whatever way he can. Poizner shares his opinions on what is broken in California schools (and by extension the educational system in general) and what could help to fix it, and he discusses briefly the impact that the charter school system is making and could make. He concludes by explaining why he decided after this year at Mount Pleasant to go into public service, and what his suggestions are for improving schools in the state of California.
Mount Pleasant is an interesting read for anyone, but it is a particularly great opportunity for Californians to get a better picture of a man who ran for governor of the state and seems likely will make another run for public office. Those who want to be well informed would gain a great deal from reading the book.
Rated: Mild, for just a handful of uses of mild or moderate language.