Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Book review: Our School by Joanne Jacobs

As I mentioned back in December I attended Joanne Jacobs' kickoff event for her book Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea, and the School That Beat the Odds.

It looks like Joanne is finishing up with her book events. The last book event listed is this Saturday in Santa Cruz. Joanne will be speaking speaking at Santa Cruz County Book Fair. (At the Live Oak Community Center, 979 17th Ave., Santa Cruz, 10 am to 4 pm.) If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area you might consider popping over to the beach and spend an hour with Joanne. I greatly enjoyed listening to her talk about the charter school, and education in general.

I bought the book back in December and had Joanne sign it. But I've been distracted, partly by blogging, and only recently got around to reading Our School.

Our School is basically a biography of Downtown College Prep, DCP. This is a charter high school in San Jose, California. Joanne leads us through the birth of the school, founded in 2000. We are introduced to Greg Lippman and Jennifer Andaluz who started the push for DCP. We read of the struggles to get funding, to get a location, and to get students.

Most of the book is about incidents that happened at DCP, or in connection to DCP. It like reading a story. Along the way Joanne slips in information about charter schools and education in general. The book is well written, very engaging, and hard to put down.

Many charter schools are very selective about who they let into the school. Often they only want students who are motivated and doing well in school. There are two elementary charter schools in my neighborhood. There is great competition to get in, so the schools are able to pick the better students.

DCP was created with the intention to help those who were flunking out of school to get back on track for college. Greg and Jennifer were going after those who were no longer in the game. They set themselves a daunting task. In some ways DCP trying to help their students catch up is a Don Quixote mission; it is an almost impossible task. Most of the freshman class was functioning around the fifth grade level. Most of them don't know how to take notes. Most of them don't want to be in school. Most of have trouble reading. A Don Quixote mission might even be easier.

Our School recounts the efforts of the teachers at DCP. One of the nice things about a charter school is they are not bound up with so much bureaucracy. The teachers at DCP would try something, and if it didn't work, they would change quickly. Over time they found ways to help the students dramatically improve their reading. They taught the students how to study. And over time most of the students became engaged and were on track for college. They accomplished these Herculean tasks.

This is a very inspiring and moving book. We get exposed to some of the problems with public education, and we see how a couple people were able to make a great difference. This is a good book to read.

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