Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America's Toughest High School

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9781118001752: Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America's Toughest High School
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The inside story of the most-watched attempt to transform a troubled high school

Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors tells the real-life story of Locke High School. Locke High– originally known for its excellence–became one of the toughest, most dysfunctional schools in the nation. Then in 2007 teachers voted to bring in an upstart charter school organization called Green Dot to try and restore the Locke Saints' past glory. It was a brave and desperate move. Working in secrecy, the school principal, a small group of teachers, and Green Dot's charismatic founder, Steve Barr, convince Locke teachers to support a petition that will take the school away from the Los Angeles Unified School District. The "new" Locke opened in the fall of 2008.

  • Offers an in-depth look at a school "turnaround" effort that garnered a blizzard of publicity
  • Russo's blog This Week in Education was named by The Washington Post as one of its best education blogs of 2010
  • Tells the gritty truth about the tough work of true school reform

Locke's transformation shows that with hard work and sacrifice, broken schools can indeed be improved in meaningful ways. However, the process of school reform is one of the most vital, and least glamorous, projects that we can participate in.

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From the Inside Flap:

A high school campus marred by disorder, teacher turnover, and hopelessness. A secret plan to break free from faraway district administrators and powerful union leaders. A hard-charging outsider who wants to revolutionize public education. A group of tireless educators banding together to rescue the school and redeem the community.

Located in the Watts section of South Central Los Angeles, Locke High School was once known for its pride and excellence. Decades of neglect and indifference turned it into a low-scoring "dropout factory" avoided by teachers and students alike. Then, working in secrecy, a handful of teachers and administrators plotted to give their school to an upstart nonprofit charter school organization called Green Dot, led by charismatic and controversial founder Steve Barr. The move turned Locke into the poster child for a national effort to "turn around" broken schools that now includes nearly 1,000 schools.

What's it like to try and turn around a broken school without stripping it beyond all recognition? It's the hardest work in education—deceptively simple at the beginning and increasingly difficult the deeper you get into it. It's a trickle of halting, incremental successes totally incompatible with the familiar Hollywood portrayal of instant results and individual heroes. And at times it can seem like everyone—not just the district and the union—wants it to fail.

Stray dogs still sometimes sneak onto the campus despite all efforts to keep them out. The "saints"—Locke parents, students, and alumni—watch carefully. And Green Dot, Steve Barr, and the staff of Locke valiantly try to make good on the promises they've made to the students and to each other.

From the Back Cover:

Praise for Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors

"In Alexander Russo's talented hands, school reform is not boring. His book has drama, tension, danger, heartbreak, and joy. It will be impossible for you to put it down."
Jay Mathews, Washington Post education columnist and author, Work Hard. Be Nice.

"Russo weaves together fascinating anecdotes and lively descriptions of the people and events that helped turn Locke from a failing school to one of hope and survival."
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers

"A gripping tale of challenge, hope, disappointment, success, scandal, and persistence in the school-reform maze, penned by a deft and knowledgeable writer."
Chester E. Finn, Jr., senior fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University and president, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

"Russo brings it alive in one high school trying to come back from the dead it's a compelling view of the most critical domestic issue of our time."
Jonathan Alter, Newsweek columnist and author, The Promise: President Obama, Year One

"Russo gets past piety and politics and gives us a valuable look at the people who try, fail, and try again to help kids succeed in education."
Peg Tyre, author, The New York Times bestseller The Trouble With Boys

"Russo threads the needle between healthy appreciation for Green Dot's impact on improving kids' lives and hard-nosed skepticism about the 'new' Locke's impact."
Greg Toppo, education reporter, USA Today

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