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Education Makeover: Dr. Perry Makes A House Call

Aired December 4, 2010 - 14:30   ET


FREDRICKA WHITEFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up in about a half an hour, face to face with the daughter of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Katherine Schwarzenegger talks about overcoming tough times as a teen and how she's trying to help other young women through her book, namely.

And at 4:00, a preview of this weekend's top new releases including Natalie Portman's new movie. It's already getting a whole lot of Oscar buzz. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Now how to fix America's troubled schools.

But first a check of the headlines. Republicans today blocked two democratic measures to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to most Americans. Republicans want the extension to apply to all, including the wealthiest. Without action by congress, the tax cuts will expire at the end of the year. The vote sets the stage for Democrats and Republicans to hammer out a compromised plan.

Overseas now -- two people were killed when a Russian passenger jet made an emergency landing in Moscow, and 48 people were injured. Authorities say three of the plane's engines failed after takeoff, forcing it to land at another airport nearby. The plane then skidded off the runway.

A California lawmaker wants to make it illegal for inmates to have cell phones. This comes after it was reported that notorious cult killer Charles Manson had one in his cell. It's considered contraband. Right now inmates caught with cell phones lose certain privileges. But the lawmaker considers that a slap on the wrist.

And now, fixing America's schools, A CNN special, EDUCATION MAKEOVER.


DR. STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: I'm Dr. Steve Perry. I'm a high school principal and the founder of one of America's most successful middle and high schools.

Mr. Carter, you've got to be kidding me. That's the fastest you can move, son?

But what I love is working with families, and more specifically working with families to help them improve the way in which they educate their children. It's not what you do, it's how you do it.

Today, we're visiting one of those families to make a house call.


JULIE RACZKOWSKI, MOTHER, SCHOOL NURSE: My name is Julia Lint. We have three marvelous children. They're all in middle school right now. My first is Nathan. Nathan is 14. He just turned 14. And he's in the eighth grade. Then our twins, David and Eva, are 12 years old.

They love school because they get to see all their friends there. But Victor and I feel that the children -- maybe they're not meeting their full potential.

PERRY: We gave the family a flip-cam so that I could get a sense of what was going on inside the home, what their daily routines looked like, and how mom and dad struggle to get their children to comply with what they want them to do to be successful in school.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: Good morning, Nathan. It's time to get up. Good morning, Nieba, time to rise. Are you awake? David, good morning. It's time to wake up, time to wake up and get your stuff together and go to school. Good morning. Come on. Rise and shine, happy guy. Come on, Nathan. This is your second call. OK, hurry up because you need to leave with daddy in, like, five minutes, OK?

It's worrisome because it is five minutes of 8:00. I'm leaving the house, and the kid isn't out of the bed yet.

VICTOR RACZKOWSKI: The main help that we need is that homework and keeping our kids on track in school has become a source of a great deal of strife and disharmony within the family.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: Victor and I made a decision this year, I don't know how we're going to stick with it, but why wait till the children go to college and we're paying $40,000 a year to have them not do homework and not follow through and potentially drop out of school.

PERRY: The family is not alone. There are millions of families struggling with many of these same issues.

PERRY (on camera): Steve Perry.

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: Nice to meet you, Steve.

PERRY: What's that say?


PERRY: Want to go inside?


PERRY: Excellent. Hello. NATHAN RACZKOWSKI: Hello, Dr. Perry.

PERRY: Steve Perry. You are?


PERRY: I want to make sure I said that. Steve Perry. Nathan. Victor?

VICTOR RACZKOWSKI: Victor. Nice to meet you.

PERRY: Wow. When I first met the family, they seemed like a really cool family. What I liked about them was they wanted help.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: You know what? We feel like we just won the lottery.

PERRY: Do you?

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: Yes, we absolutely do. We're so glad you're here.

PERRY: Why is that?

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: We want some expert advice, and I'm not kidding.

PERRY: Good because we're going to have a lot of fun today. Could you guys show me around? Could I ask the kids to show me around?


JULIE RACZKOWSKI: That would be great.

PERRY: There's a lot that we can learn about a child by the way they keep their room. And many children who are messy tend to be underperforming in the classroom. What happened, David? You moving out?

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: It was a tornado.

PERRY: A tornado. I see we have some newspaper articles down here. Looks like some notebooks. Right?


PERRY: And some "National Geographic." That was a homework assignment. What's this?

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: This was a permission slip from a couple days ago.

PERRY: A permission slip?

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: Yes. I needed this, but I forgot it. PERRY: Sometimes when you start like this, things happen.

When I walk into the kids' rooms, it looked like mayhem. It honestly looked like someone had taken a clothes basket and threw it all over and then chased behind that with paper and anything else they have in their hands.

Take me on a tour of the other part of the bomb that exploded. Where do you study?

EVA RACZKOWSKI: I usually study downstairs.

PERRY: Oh. So this is just for show right here. This desk situation, this is for show. We don't want that to trick anybody. Right?


PERRY: Lest they think that you could actually study in this. Let's go downstairs. Let's go downstairs. A lot of what I saw from the family was really impressive. I was surprised at how much they were doing right.

All right, Nathan, my man.

NATHAN RACZKOWSKI: Here's my backpack and an agenda for every day.

PERRY: But there was some areas where structure seemed to be very, very important that wasn't in place. The kids seemed to be having more access to making decisions than I would have liked to see them have. So I had a lot of hope, but I also had a couple questions.

So the children each have an option as to where they can go. They get home around 4:40. Around 5:00, 6:00, what time is dinner?

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: Usually we try to get it on there about quarter to 6:00.

PERRY: For about an hour they're home.


PERRY: What are they doing for that hour?

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: They're hanging out.

PERRY: OK. So they're hanging out for the hour. Then they have dinner. Then we go to library. And how long do we stay at the library?

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: Until 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, we tell them, make the decision.

PERRY: So many families want to let their children make decisions. And I understand why. But they're kids, and they need us grown people to tell them how they're supposed to live.

PERRY: So about two hours at the library of which, David, about how much studying do you think he does in two hours?


PERRY: I also know that David likes to do card tricks and paper airplanes.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: He loves that stuff.

PERRY: At the library?


PERRY: For his friends. David's an entertainer.

Now it's about 9:30. So bedtime?

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: Eva and Nathan will probably go off the computer probably I've hustled them off around 10:00.

PERRY: But the kids are not staying in bed. They're getting up in the middle of the night for snacks.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: You know, all that middle-school eating.


JULIE RACZKOWSKI: Crackers and all that stuff.

PERRY: So they go to bed around sometimes 1:00?


PERRY: 2:00?


PERRY: Who missed the bus this morning?


PERRY: David? How did he get to school?

VICTOR RACZKOWSKI: He called me. And I came and picked him up and took him in.

PERRY: OK. Who left the homework?


PERRY: You were quite the bus driver today.

(LAUGHTER) So what we're going to do is we're going to sit down as a family and we're going to look at what some specific strategies are, keeping in mind that every child is different. And then as a result, what we'll have is the beginning, not the end, of a schedule and some behaviors that will improve their performance academically. Sound good?

VICTOR RACZKOWSKI: Yes, absolutely.

PERRY: All right, good.

Coming up next, I'm going to sit down with the family, and they may not like what I have to say.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI, MOTHER, SCHOOL NURSE: Is it too late? I mean, they're already in middle school. Have we already missed the wall?

PERRY: That's a great question.


PERRY: So far I've met 14-year-old Nathan -- that's a really good idea, Nathan. And 12-year-old twins Eva and David. What happened, David? You moving out?

I talked to mom and dad alone. I've gone through messy rooms and book bags. Now it's time for all of us to sit down for a family meeting.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: Is it too late? I mean, they're already in middle school. Have we already missed the wall?

PERRY: That's a great question. Is it too late? No.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: We've established some very --

PERRY: No, no, no.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: -- weak skills here. It's a great question. Is it too late? The answer is absolutely not. In fact, it's at this time in high school when it's most important for parents to engage their children. It's at the time that they seem to want it the least that they need it the most.

So the first thing we're going to do, structure. You guys know why I say structure is the first thing?

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: Because without structure, you can't build the rest of the pyramid.

PERRY: Nice.

NATHAN RACZKOWSKI: The first building block of the wall.

PERRY: Right? So what is it about you guys that make me say that you need structure, more structure? NATHAN RACZKOWSKI: Our in-organization?

PERRY: You lack organization?



DAVID RACZKOWSKI: Especially from me.

PERRY: What do you mean by that, David?

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: Well, my room.

PERRY: How is cleaning your room going to help you in school?

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: Well, if my room's not clean and I do my homework in my bed where I usually do it and I drop it somewhere -- this is just a hypothetical.

PERRY: Yes, of course. This never could happen.

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: Ever, no, definitely not.

PERRY: The next problem is that the kids are having a really tough time getting up and getting ready for school.

We have to rework our schedules. We really do. It's 1:00 in the morning. And your 14 and 12-year-old are up.


PERRY: OK. They're up, they come downstairs because they want something to eat.


PERRY: Maybe if we move dinner a little later, then what happens is they get time to bang out their homework first. And then they can eat a little later, because it sounds like their growing eating habits, it's eating away at their sleep time a little bit.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: You think that -- wait a minute, you think that that's why you're down here eating? Because you're hungry? You think that that's why --

NATHAN RACZKOWSKI: I eat because I'm hungry.

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: Yes, I was going to say --

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: I'm thinking that actually he's more -- the kids are just more grazers.

NATHAN RACZKOWSKI: I'm coming down because I'm hungry.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: I think Nathan's really hungry. NATHAN RACZKOWSKI: I can't sleep because my stomach's just, you know, I'm just too distracted.

PERRY: Most educators will tell you to set a bedtime. Most will. And I can tell you to do that. But if at 10:00 or 9:00 the child's not tired, you can't go and pinch their eyes together. But what you can do is work the snot out of them all day so they get tired, good and tired.

What's going to be different about our schedule?

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: I'm going to wake up earlier.

PERRY: Yes. How about that?


PERRY: Right?

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: I can tell you're being sarcastic.

PERRY: Missing the bus today, not cool.


PERRY: Next on the agenda, study habits. For David, when he's doing something where he has to read, is that he puts together note cards. And any way for him to be able to monitor what he's learning is to take notes on it. David, the library's not your place to study.


PERRY: It's where you have an audience so you can do your card tricks.

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: Oh, actually, I don't do my card tricks.

PERRY: Anymore.

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: Paper airplanes now.

PERRY: Now it's paper airplanes.

You have an audience. For your performance, it would be a great place to go, but not for school. Mom and dad need to decide where the best place is for David to study. And David, you need to study there.

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: I have a comment. I do not want to sit in the kitchen.

PERRY: David's a bright kid, but he is argumentative. He needs to understand he's a child. And as a child, he needs to take the direction of the adults who care about him.

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: Because it is hard seats, and I don't like hard seats. That was kind of -- PERRY: But that's interesting because you thought that you had a choice in this. That's really cool.


PERRY: You kind of fell back into the old David. Right now what we're talking about is what's best for David.

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: Oh. So I don't get a choice for what's best for David?

PERRY: Not right now.


He can be a little hard here and there.

PERRY: But when I'm trying to help him to improve his grades, he just needs to listen.

OK, so now here's the big one. This is the biggest one of all. Follow the rule. So we can come in with the best plan in the world, but it doesn't work if we don't follow through.

NATHAN RACZKOWSKI: I'm getting older, less free time after school to run around and do stuff and just crackdown on homework.

EVA RACZKOWSKI: Probably me, too, less time to go do other stuff, more time for homework.

PERRY: That's a great place to be. Mom and dad, I'm sure, are glad to hear that.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: I'm shocked because you're got great kids.

EVA RACZKOWSKI: You've heard it before.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: Maybe we just needed somebody else to step in and actually have them say that. I thought I was the only one, and I thought all my ideas were just solo. So yes, it's amazing to have it coming from them.


JULIE RACZKOWSKI: Absolutely. You all have been holding back.

VICTOR RACZKOWSKI: What are the three main things that we have to do differently going forward that we just talked about?

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: Structure, studying and following through.

VICTOR RACZKOWSKI: I think the follow-through will be the hardest part.


VICTOR RACZKOWSKI: It's not only follow-through on our part but also follow-through on the kids' part.

PERRY: See, what I have learned from your mom and dad is that they love you very dearly. One of their challenges is being the bad guys. When you make the decision that you are going to stick to your guns because you know what's best for your children, then and only then will they fall in line.

By setting up bedtimes, study hours, a place where they're supposed to study, this is what parents do. It was a long day. But I felt rewarded. I felt good because it's what I love to do. I love helping families.

Coming up next -- oh, wow. Eva. What happened? Whoa -- some improvements for sure.


PERRY: Two months ago we were here to talk about them how to help their children improve in school.

Hello, David, Nathan, mom, dad. How's everybody doing?

So I'm back now. And I'm excited. In the course of my real day, my work day as a principal, I know what I suggest to families, but I don't ever get to see what actually happened. So today I'm going to take the suggestions that I have, and I'm going to go to the house and see if they worked. I've always wanted to do this.

Whoa. Some improvements for sure.


PERRY: And those pants probably were going to make it to a hanger? The first kids' room that I saw was David. David's room was 70 percent, 80 percent better. Still a couple things on the floor, but that's David. You don't want to take away his personality. That's cool. I think that's what makes the kid school.

How's the school year going?

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: This quarter I'm doing pretty good. I have, like, a "b" and a "c" and an "a."

PERRY: What's going on?


PERRY: I had to kick my way through Eva's room before. This time it was clean, organized.

Oh, wow! Eva. What happened? Did you just clean up today, because last time I was stepping over all sorts of things that I didn't need to be stepping over? So what happened?

EVA RACZKOWSKI: You said it would be easier to get all my work done and turn everything in if my environment was cleaner, so I did that.

PERRY: That is so cool. And she just had a glow about her. She was so excited about the fact she had cleaned her room, and she couldn't wait to tell me how good her grades were. and they were good. Straight "A's." that's what I'm talking about. Straight "A's."

I saw David's and Eva's room cleaner. I saw their book bags were in order. Right before I sit down with the family, what I'm thinking is, there's a lot to celebrate here. This feels good.

Nathan, you did the note cards, yes?

NATHAN RACZKOWSKI: Yes. And I definitely felt a benefit. I mean, I just -- it's incredible. My vocabulary, it's improved by so much. I felt like I knew the material because I knew the vocabulary just sounds better.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: David couldn't deny early on after you left, he couldn't deny for those cards he made he did better. But the situation came up the other night that he had to pull a certain grade to go to hockey. And I found him actually making the cards by himself without anybody telling him. So it says to me that your words actually sank in. They might not initiate the behavior, but they heard what you said.

PERRY: They wouldn't admit to it because that would be too much like right. David wouldn't admit something that someone else other than him said made sense. Listen, man, I get it. It has its place. You'll learn at some point you don't know all. And when you begin to accept that, it makes it possible for you to learn even more.

It sounds like for your brother and sister, they've actually taken to some of the suggestions that mom and dad have taken. Hey, man, there's no --

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: They are doing it.

PERRY: I bet you when I look at their grades, they're better grades. Why do you think that is?


NATHAN RACZKOWSKI: Straight S's, straight C's.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: But can you say that the cards actually helped?

VICTOR RACZKOWSKI: David took a positive step. He made those cards. He made a lot of cards, even though it was the night before, and both Julie and I were impressed.

PERRY: Right. As we should be, but let's not be overly impressed with something that was way late.


PERRY: And barely impressive.

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: Better late than never.

PERRY: OK. I'll remember that. You should remember that one time when you want to get paid for something. So after the game, after you lose a game, I want you to sit there and I want you to shoot into the net and then call the refs back and say hey, man, better late than never.


I mean, come on. I went into somebody's house. And I asked them to change the way that they raised their kids. It's a lot to ask. And just two months, they did make some significant changes. That's why I got into this whole principal thing in the first place.

What's up with the bedtime?

NATHAN RACZKOWSKI: To be honest, around 11:30.

PERRY: Still a little late, but you were probably doing your homework. That's all right. You stay up as late as you need to.

EVA RACZKOWSKI: To me, it's 11:00.

PERRY: Are we still the night-crawlers? Are you two still coming down here?

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: No, I think that party's over.

PERRY: Good. David, what time?

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: 10:00. David's never been the one to worry about sleep, right?

VICTOR RACZKOWSKI: But if Nathan started earlier, I think he might be up quite so late.

PERRY: We're working on that. Bedtimes are changing. Good.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: Dr. Perry, he hasn't missed the bus one day this quarter.

DAVID RACZKOWSKI: I've been waking up early.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: He's been going in for intramurals. That's a big step forward for David.

PERRY: Sounds like things are going really well.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: It's definitely moving in the right direction. Of course, as the parent, you want it on fast forward.

PERRY: Always.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: Instead of this little incremental steps. PERRY: I think that they've made some great growth.


PERRY: I mean, we're talking about two months.


PERRY: It's a big shift.

JULIE RACZKOWSKI: It's just we started so far behind.



PERRY: But you're doing a great job.

When I think about Nathan, I get very excited for that young man because he is the type of kid who sets out to make his family proud. Eva is very strong-willed. She will not be tread upon. And she's going to be all right. And David also has all the markings of success, except for one. He could use a little more time to listen.

Well, I definitely thank you guys, seriously, all of you. You guys have been so open to this. It's been a lot of fun. I learned a lot, to be honest with you. I'll take it back to my school and my own family.

It's important to me that people understand that this family is a typical American family.

All right, thank you so much.

Though their issues may be different, we all have them.

My man, take care.

They want to improve their children's probability of being successful, and that makes them a real success story.