Two years ago, two brothers came to Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School looking for more than education.
They wanted a better life.
Now, one of the brothers is in college and the other is set to graduate and begin college.
"He looked at me and said, 'Coming to your school saved our lives,' " founder and former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said Thursday.
"Where on a bubble sheet can I put that?"
The testimonial renews Brooks' desire to use education as a means to affect the lives of kids. Teaming with developer Eddie DeBartolo, he opened the Tampa school in a converted Circuit City store in 2007 to harvest such dreams.
As a charter school, however, Brooks also has to concern himself with how students perform on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test — hence the reference to bubble sheets.
Based on test results, the state gave the school a "C" in 2007 but a "D" in 2008. The grade prompted Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia to review the district's contract with the school.
As it awaits this year's FCAT grade, Brooks and school officials met with School Board members in an afternoon-long hearing Wednesday.
Elia praised the school's efforts, but made it clear another low grade would move the district one step closer to severing its relationship and possibly closing the school.
Brooks wants people to know that standardized tests measure only one part of the good work going on at the school.
"When it comes to the FCAT, we're trending right where a lot of other schools are trending," Brooks said. "But in other areas, we're outperforming the nation."
With the help of Advance Placement and dual-enrollment classes, the 17 students in its 2009 graduating class all moved on to a postsecondary education. He expects all but five of the 42 students in this year's to attend college.
These are the success stories Brooks envisioned when he opened the school, an extension of his longtime work with Boys & Girls Club kids that resulted in him taking youths on a variety of educational trips, including two to South Africa.
"When I see a kid, I see potential," said Brooks, who chairs the governor's council on physical fitness. "I see a mind ready to see the world."
While Brooks stings from the perception that some media accounts may lead people to think the school isn't succeeding, he's not dismissing the fact that the school must perform on the FCAT.
With an enrollment of only 271, it's a challenge because a few poor performances can adversely tilt the scales, but the school staff has diligently worked to raise the score.
Faculty members created a new perspective called FCAT Academy, and board members helped initiate an after-school program that got 75 percent participation. Brooks boasts that they didn't significantly take away from class time to teach the test.
No matter what, Brooks pledges to remain involved. I hope so, because we need him now more than ever.
Every day we see the disturbing results of a community in crisis. But instead of talking about the problems, Brooks addresses them.
We need to bolster his efforts so it will inspire others to follow his lead. As Brooks says, we have to believe in opportunities instead of obstacles.
That's all I'm saying.