Madeline Cartwright, born into a family of thirteen children in a rural Pennsylvania town, remembers how it felt to be a child singled out in school for her messy hair and her hand-me-down clothes. She can still recall her frustration when she couldn't read in third grade and the alphabet seemed hopelessly twisted beyond her comprehension. It was those memories, interwoven with her inherent innovation and generosity, that Cartwright brought to the run-down Blaine Elementary School in North Philadelphia's Strawberry Mansion District. This dynamic woman took over the troubled inner-city school and brought her teachers and students to a stunning victory. Test scores increased, attendance grew to 92 percent, and a community where 63 percent of families receive public assistance was inspired to overcome the apathy and the stereotype of despair endemic to the urban landscape.
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A first-person account of how a nuclear-powered principal saved a Philadelphia school in a collapsing inner-city neighborhood. Cartwright--the youngest of 13 children who were so poor that they often went without shoes--worked her way through college as a maid, began to teach, and then moved up through the Philadelphia school system, eventually becoming principal of the James G. Blaine Elementary School in Strawberry Mansion (whose pretty name belied its desolate neighborhood: its students saw death and violence, and knew hunger, cold, and desperation). Cartwright set out to make the school a safe and joyous refuge for learning; one of her first acts was to take off her shoes and stockings, drop to her knees, and scrub the foul-smelling floor of the children's bathroom (many similiarly dramatic incidents dot the text, coauthored with Norfolk Virginian-Pilot reporter d'Orso). Cartwright defied or circumvented the school establishment regularly--for example, by insisting that the administering of achievement tests be as clean as the bathroom floor. As a result, the school's achievement scores dropped at first, but then began to climb as the children mastered the concepts and not simply the answers, which had been readily available during the previous school regime. Cartwright was able to turn the school around because, above all, she insisted that teachers respect each child's potential; that children respect their teachers and parents; and that parents be involved in their children's education. As gripping as her school tales are those of the neighborhood's deterioration, of the start of the crack epidemic, and of the benighted efforts of reformers who annually touted new programs to revive the schools. Cartwright rejected most of these efforts and continued on her own way. Few share Cartwright's drive and courage, but her advice to make schools a better place just one step, one room, at a time may hearten all those overwhelmed by grandiose proposals for ``educational reform.'' -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Library Journal:
Anyone who thinks that schools need not serve as social service agencies should read this story of Cartwright and her success as principal of Blaine Elementary School, located in one of Philadelphia's most debilitated and devastated inner city neighborhoods. "Schools are going to have to become surrogate homes," she says. When necessary, Cartwright scrubs the boys' lavatory herself. In one account, she convinces a teacher to report for work despite a broken leg. She is there with a devastated parent to arrange for the burial of a child shot on the streets and advises another to give her children up for adoption because it would be tantamount to "removing children from a war zone." The intensely personal narrative will either turn the reader away in shock and disbelief, or make one hope for more leaders like Cartwright. This powerful book should be required reading for politicians, sociologists, educators, and anyone interested in the future of this country; no library should be without it. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/93.
- Arla Lindgren, St. John's Univ., Jamaica, New York
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Book Description Doubleday. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0385423721 Ships promptly. Bookseller Inventory # Z0385423721ZN
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