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

by Alexander Russo
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 12, 2011 1118001753 978-1118001752 1
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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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Alexander Russo’s new book on the remaking of Locke High in Los Angeles… is a must-read, nerve-jangling thrill ride…. I plan to read the book again…. Anyone interested in fixing bad schools anywhere in the country should do the same. We will never have a better guide to how to do this right, and wrong.”
Jay Matthews, Washington Post

Stray Dogs is definitely worth a read, especially since the book reads more like a thriller than your run-of-the-mill school turnaround story…, painting a gritty portrait that readers may find tough to believe outside of a Hollywood film. Actual suspense is built as we’re taken into secret meetings and brought through confrontations.”
Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld

“Here, finally, is a book that recognizes the excruciatingly incremental pace of school reform and the monumental significance of the community's willingness to stick it out. Russo delivers…in this well-balanced, complicated account of school reform.”
Laura Varlas, ASCD Express

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.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (April 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118001753
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118001752
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,166,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Reading Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors a few years after teaching at Locke, I beamed with pride to know that Ronnie Coleman overheard my students talking about Macbeth and wept when I recalled the May 2008 riot (during which I literally pulled a student away from a police officer striking her with his baton). I smiled as I could hear my friends and former colleagues make the statements quoted in the book, and I was furious when I read about one of my former students being pepper sprayed. The stray dogs Russo describes were a constant fixture outside my classroom - a temporary building separate from the main structures - and on a couple of ocassions inside my classroom too. Teaching at Locke was extraordinarily difficult, but I saw huge gains in my classroom. It was fascinating to be on the front lines of the education reform debate. Regardless of readers' opinions on the Locke transformation or the way the story has been told, the book highlights for me why I find education reform so compelling: the need is overwhelming, the politics are substantial, and the solutions are not easy. And yet, I continue to believe that we may yet make it possible that one day all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. Thank you, Alexander Russo for telling Locke's story and continuing to push the conversation.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No magic bullet in transforming schools June 22, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As an educator, I was excited about reading Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America's Toughest High School if for no other reason than to see something positive happen at an urban school. Locke High, on the border between Watts and Los Angeles, was for years among the very worst schools in the LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District). Violence was common, absenteeism chronic, and graduation rare. Green Dot, a unionized charter school program, was approved by members of the faculty to take over the school.

A lot of this book deals with the difference between public schools run by the local bureaucracy and those run by charter schools--with all of the responsibilities of a school, but more flexibility to come up with novel solutions. They also have the advantage of private money--Bill and Melinda Gates giving millions to such programs. What I was most amazed about is how typical the problems at Locke were. Surely this could not be the worst school in the country--the high school I worked at in Baltimore was far worse.

Still, turning a poor school functional is extremely hard work. The challenge was compounded by four brand-new administrators and teachers with just a year or two under their belts leading the change. Green Dot introduced the small school idea to Locke--turning one giant school into a complex housing several smaller schools. Change was incremental. There were crises, a riot, violence--but less of it than in years past.

Readers will be left disappointed that there is no magic bullet to transforming American urban education. It takes a talented, hard-working staff and the execution of leaders holding a shared vision.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Alexander Russo has written a great book here. As an education innovator, I read the book because the topic interests me and I know that Russo is a top-flight education journalist. But before talking about the content, let me encourage others to get this because it is just a great read! I like to read fiction to end my day and this is the rare non-fiction book written so compellingly that I literally could not put it down one bedtime til 2 AM when I finished it. I felt I had to know what happened to some of the key characters that Russo tracks.

And that's also what makes this a great read for anyone interested in understanding what is going on at a widely watched battlefront in education reform. While Russo certainly provides some background on the sad demise and dismal state of Locke High School in LA before the Green Dot turnaround/takeover and while he provides some insight into their educational strategies, the book is best at highlighting that these are wrenching experiences with few total heroes or villains. Instead, we see well-intentioned people who make mistakes and laggards who are human. We come to feel just how hard the problem is when students are already teenagers and far off the desired trajectory of college and career success. We see how people manage to fight their way ahead to make sense of their lives, seek meaning in their work and cope with the chaos. We are sometimes delighted at happy outcomes and shocked by disasters.

Folks - the President and others are right that we cannot continue to stand by and watch as thousands of high-poverty kids drop out of high school (about half!) or graduate with skills so low they can't take an entry level course at a community college for credit (about half of the half who graduate).
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Telling it like it is April 28, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I dont usually comment on someone else's perspective, but, really, the previous reviewer needs to put on her big girl pants and deal with it. This book is not intended to be an inspirational guide for a teacher-hopeful. It reports on what happened, warts and all, in one of the toughest schools in the country, where students, teachers, parents and administrators are all imperfect and conflicted beings. In the book, as in life, conflicts and issues are not neatly resolved. It is even more inspiring that there is progress at Locke and other schools like it that exist in such difficult circumstances. The book provides a healthy balance of background information and events that read like a story that I didnt want to put down.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars As an alumni I felt in some way insulted
As soon as I heard that a book had been written about Locke and it's transition I had to look it up and purchase it. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mars
2.0 out of 5 stars This should be a lot more passionate and inspiring than it is.
The description of this book is accurate and apt so I won't drag down my review with a recap of what you already see in the Amazon listing. Read more
Published on August 8, 2011 by Steven A. Godun
4.0 out of 5 stars Sharing Methodologies
"Stray Dogs..." was a real upper for me. Knowing about those administrators and staff members who are true educators continues to give me hope that we, the American people, have a... Read more
Published on July 11, 2011 by Marceau O'Neill
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Inside Scoop on a School Turnaround Effort
As a long-time reader of Alexander Russo's blog, "This Week in Education," I have come to to trust this author to push aside the politics surrounding so many issues in education,... Read more
Published on June 22, 2011 by Roxanna Elden
4.0 out of 5 stars Back in the day. . .
I'm looking forward to reading this book. Back in the day (1960s through early 1980s) Locke had an incredible music program, students were graduating and going to college; things... Read more
Published on June 10, 2011 by brothaslide
3.0 out of 5 stars INTERESTING BUT LACKING
STRAY DOGS, SAINTS, AND SAVIORS, Fighting For The Soul Of America's Toughest High School by Alexander Russo is a book hard to pen down. Read more
Published on June 3, 2011 by James L. Woolridge
2.0 out of 5 stars Stray Dogs Saints and Saviors
Stray dogs, Saints, and Saviors: fighting for the Soul of America's Toughest High School by Alexander Russo is a book of interest for those especially interested in education here... Read more
Published on May 28, 2011 by Gail Rodgers
3.0 out of 5 stars But what, exactly, did they do?
In Donna Foote's 2008 book about Teach For America volunteers,*Relentless Pursuit*, we get a good look inside Locke High School in Los Angeles. Read more
Published on May 7, 2011 by Gerald A. Heverly
3.0 out of 5 stars Not ready for prime time
I wanted to like this book. The topic was exactly something that I, a hopeful future teacher, was hoping to learn from. Read more
Published on March 29, 2011 by TR
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