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Born to Rise: A Story of Children and Teachers Reaching Their Highest Potential Hardcover – June 5, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“Leaders who want to light an entrepreneurial fire under every employee must read this book.” (Jack Welch)

“Deborah’s journey is a gift: she teaches children to love learning” (Bill Cosby)

“Deborah Kenny’s inspiring story holds powerful lessons for parents, teachers, administrators, and elected officials across the country.” (Mayor Michael Bloomberg)

“Our country needs more schools like Harlem Village Academies.” (Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education)

“Deborah has created something extraordinary at Harlem Village Academies. You feel a warmth and an intellectual energy but most of all there’s a passion for learning like I have never before seen at a school.” (Hugh Jackman)

“One woman’s tragedy turns into triumph for hundreds of Harlem schoolchildren in Kenny’s personal and professional memoir… the anecdotes of successful teachers (Kenny’s “rock stars”) at work and students whose lives were truly turned around by her work prove persuasive and uplifting.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Deborah’s passion and integrity are inspirational. This important story is a must-read.” (John Legend)

“This memoir of a young widow’s quest to transform urban education by establishing the groundbreaking Harlem Village Academies will inspire readers everywhere.” (O, the Oprah Magazine)

“Parents and principals trying to understand what makes successful schools work ought to read Born to Rise.” (New York Times)

Born to Rise is about Deborah Kenny’s ability to see greatness in every child and transform entire communities. Her journey is a passionate one and gives me goose bumps.” (Jason Mraz)

“I forgive Deborah Kenny for writing an interesting book, Born to Rise, for her misinformed - even slanderous - claims about the impact of unions…. it’s a very good book to read-useful, informative and inspiring.… her educational values are close to mine.” (Deborah Meier)

From the Back Cover

Deborah Kenny was a young mother of three small children seeking to make sense of her life amid the despair of her husband's untimely death when she decided to devote herself to radically reinventing public education. Born to Rise recounts a journey that led Kenny to risk her life savings to open schools in Harlem while proving that all children, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances, can learn at high levels. Students enter Harlem Village Academies several years behind grade level, but in just a few years they are transformed, ranking among the highest in the nation—with 99 percent of eighth graders meeting proficiency standards in math, science, and social studies.

How do they do it?

For the first time, Kenny shares the groundbreaking strategy that took ten years to develop. She reveals the secret to creating a powerful workplace culture that attracts the most talented people and brings out their passion and highest performance—a culture that produces stunning student achievement and teachers who regularly use words like magical to describe the workplace environment.

Born to Rise is the moving and strikingly candid account of Kenny's deeply personal dream: to pursue social justice for our nation's most vulnerable children. Part memoir, part manifesto, it is a hopeful and practical exposition of what it takes to transform schools and create organizations where the staff lights up with entrepreneurial drive. It is a must-read for anyone who cares about children and the future of this country, as well as for leaders who want to motivate and inspire fierce dedication in their employees.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062106201
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062106209
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #598,735 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By George Bush HALL OF FAME on June 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Deborah Kenny had it all together - a vision, commitment, perseverance, credibility, and the ability to sell herself; in addition, she also had the ability to get down into and accomplish an infinity of required details.

Her remarkable story begins shortly after her husband died from leukemia in 2001. Along with three young children to care for, no insurance benefits from her husband's death, no job, enrollment in a PhD program, she also wanted to help disadvantaged children trapped in failing Harlem schools. (In 2000, 78% of Harlem 8th-graders failed reading, 87% failed math.)

Turning that vision into reality began with visiting Chris Whittle, CEO of Edison Schools. He hired her - first assignment was to help a new team trying to get contracts for four NYC charter schools. Immediately she started hearing stories about the lengths the NYC teacher unions would go to because they were concerned the effort would grow to envelop many more of the city's 1,000+ schools. They would pay groups to come out and demonstrate against the charters, created robocalls that misinformed parents into believing Edison-managed public schools would charge tuition, file large number of grievances at charter efforts involving union teacher - tying up the principal with hearings, got Al Sharpton involved, and even sneered at teachers who stayed after 3 P.M. to tutor.

After awhile Kenny concluded that even Edison's successes weren't good enough - that their scripted, top-down management approach precluded teacher ownership and even better results. So she decided to open her own charter school.

Researching successful examples, she came upon a source in California - Don Shalog, who had started that state's first charter school in 1992.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Lorenz on June 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I think teaching is the best job in the world, and I have been a teacher for ten years.

I taught two years as a Teaching Fellow in the South Bronx, two years at a high school in Queens and six years at Harlem Village Academy Leadership, one of Deborah Kenny's middle schools. I honestly cannot imagine teaching anywhere else. HVA schools are amazing.

I am so happy Deborah decided to tell her story. In her book, the events of her life are woven together so carefully and honestly. This is the story of how she founded our schools, developed the best people, honed her vision, and never stopped working toward improving every single aspect of our schools. In every decision she made, she was always guided by what would be best for the students she wanted to teach. Both her incredible work ethic and her eye for detail beautifully translate to the page. Her commitment to educational equality is so inspiring, and in this book, you read about just how greatly it impacts the lives of her students and teachers. Every child deserves a great teacher, and Deborah has become an expert at creating schools where teachers love to teach and students love to learn.

Deborah's book, Born to Rise, is the story of how she changed the lives of so many children and so many teachers. And it's beautiful.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Whitney R. Tilson on June 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I just finished the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's an inspiring, heart-warming story about how Deborah Kenny, just after being widowed by the tragic death of her husband and trying to raise two kids by herself, started two charter schools in Harlem in 2003. Against all odds, she succeeded: Harlem Village Academies now runs three high-performing schools (two middle schools and one high school), with two elementary schools slated to open this fall. Educators and school reformers will learn much from this book, especially from Kenny's description of HVA's intense focus on great teaching: she finds superstars and then does everything to empower and motivate them.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By LoveToReadMpls1234 on November 15, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
There were parts of this book I really liked and respected but after reading the entire thing - I think there is definitely more to that story than the rainbows and unicorns regarding HVA that have played in the media. Kenny speaks of greatly respecting teachers and wanting each child, regardless of background to have the opportunity for a quality education. How can you argue that? I commend her for having a dream as it relates to educating children and following through to make her dream a reality. The trouble for me came about midway through the book, as Kenny admits she doesn't have a background in education or teaching, yet seems to quickly pass judgement on teachers she is auditioning for her schools as not quite fitting her standards and therefore passing on an opportunity to give what could be a diamond in the rough an opportunity to shine. By the end of the book, Kenny seemed to come across more as the "white lady savior" rather than someone who was well-versed in teacher education and had strong relationships with her students and families. SIDENOTE: After I finished the book and started to research HVA online and found some troublesome information about Kenny and her salary. It is bothersome to know that as much as she says she values teachers and wants them empowered, she pays herself $450,000 plus per year as the founder/director of HVA. True, it is through private donations, but how can you justify that when your teachers make a fraction of that and work extremely long hours to make your dream a success? There are also questions of teacher turnover and student attrition that I think are glossed over for the most part when talking about HVA and their successes and should be clearly addressed. I am not anti-charter school but just felt like we were getting a very rosy picture of HVA and not necessarily the full reality.
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