How To Walk To School
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Cspan Covers my Busboy and Poet talk

March 3rd, 2010 by jacqueline

C-Span just aired my gig in DC at Busboy & Poet, hosted by DC Voice and Teaching for Change. As Nettelhorst was one of Chicago’s six inaugural community schools, it meant the world to me that Marty Blank, the Director of the Coalition of Community Schools, would offer such a kind introduction.  I’ve always wondered who watches Book TV.  Apparently, zillions of people! Here are some recurrent questions:

You showed a video of the school, it is posted somewhere?

Yup, it’s on you tube. Check out what a little paint, imagination and elbow grease can accomplish on my How to Walk to School/Nettelhorst video. If you’re curious why a lot of the students look like me, most of pictures are of my kids, Maya and Zack.

Is Nettelhorst a private school?

No, Nettelhorst is not a private school. Would we be fighting this hard for a private school? Seriously. Nettelhorst is a regular-old, FREE, neighborhood, public, elementary school. If you live in the school’s attendance boundary, your kids can come. There’s no gifted program or tracking of any kind.

Nettelhorst does have a Tuition-based preschool which costs roughly $200 a week (from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm). We also have a Preschool for All program which is free. Our innovative community school, Jane’s Place at Nettelhorst, offers fee-based after-school programing and scholarships.

Illinois ranks 49th in the Union for state educational funding–second only to Nevada, where the public schools are heavily supported by the gaming industry. Our school is so strapped for cash, it would break your heart. If  you want to keep the momentum going, 650 little kids sure would love your support.

Is Nettelhorst a magnet school?

Not really. Nettelhorst is a Fine and Performing Arts Magnet Cluster School, which in CPS lingo, means it’s a neighborhood school with a special focus. Our focus is Fine and Performing Arts, but we still teach reading, math, and science, and so forth. We are held to the same standards as any other public school.

Traditional magnet schools in Chicago accept students only by testing or lottery. At Nettelhorst, neighborhood kids get first dibs on seats, but if any seats remain open, the school will release them to the citywide lottery. Nettelhorst has become so desirable, lottery spots rarely become available.

Nettelhorst was always supposed to be a neighborhood school, it’s just that the neighborhood refused to go.

What happened to all the bused-in kids?

The incoming neighborhood students did not displace anyone. When the Local School Council (LSC) decided to stop busing (the year before we arrived), every kid who attended Nettelhorst could continue to stay on through eighth grade, but they needed to come and go by their own transportation. Almost every single bused-in student chose to stay at Nettelhorst. Today, the seventh and eighth graders are still from an over-crowded school.

The data proves that our reform measures benefited students across the board, almost immediately.  Nettelhorst’s teachers and administrators deserve lots of gold stars for closing the achievement gap.

Not every neighborhood has such talent parents milling about. What gives?

To be sure, we were a pretty cool group of moms, but if you haven’t been to a sandbox lately, the talent pool is staggering. Don’t just take my word for it. Check out Mamapedia, Mymompreneur, or The Northside Parents Network. Plus, lots of uber-talented dads are pushing strollers today, too.

Your Chicago neighborhood seems fairly well-healed. Can your blueprint work in disadvantaged communities?

East Lakeview is a stable, middle-class neighborhood in the middle of Chicago’s Boystown. While it’s far grittier than other “family friendly” neighborhoods, it is much better-off than many others. Even with rising housing stock, East Lakeview remains a hip, funky, and diverse community. I LOVE my neighborhood–click here to see why Boystown rocks. I fully recognize that our neighborhood has a whole lot of advantages which contributed to our success.

I’m not claiming to have all the answers. Our “fee for service” community school model requires a stable middle class base. However, the traditional community school model is intended to serve economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Many of the lessons we learned are applicable to all kind of settings. The players will be different. Change may take longer. But ALL schools can succeed  because everyone wants what’s best for their children.

Why do you make that weird clicking sound at the end of every sentence?

Embarrassing, I know. I’m working on it. I also say “right,” “you know,” and “the truth is” far too often. I should also learn to sit up straight.

Do you hate teachers? They didn’t seem to play much of role in your reform movement.

No, no. Of course we love teachers. You couldn’t pay me enough to be in a classroom. The Roscoe Park Eight didn’t include many teachers in the process because Nettelhorst’s teaching climate was super toxic.

What’s next?

I’m working on creating the How to Walk to School Project. We have a blueprint; we now need to make a tool box so that school communities across the country can get the support they need to effect their own transformations. I don’t have an advance or anything, and I make less than seventy cents a book, so I sure need a foundation to adopt me. And fast. Anybody know Bill Gates?

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