“This is a fascinating account of the collaboration between a public school principal, Kurland, the parents of young children considering her elementary school, and the community that transformed a failing public school into an outstanding and revitalized one. In the face of disastrous, widespread public school system failures across America, parent dissatisfaction, and teacher despair, the Chicago-based Nettlehorst School’s success story is a beacon. Edelberg, one of the Nettlehorst parents, and Kurland offer educators hope that change can happen in any public school, given the right mix of parent-teacher patience, willpower, community involvement, pluck, creativity, collaboration, and ability to overcome adversity. They provide a blueprint that schools can use for revitalization projects, detailing, for instance, how to procure donations from area businesses and to ask questions that will get answers about difficult educational problems such as coping with dysfunctional and unsatisfactory teaching. VERDICT This book is essential reading for all elementary school parents and teachers, especially those who have lost their faith in the American public school system and are looking for ways to improve it. Here are solutions and inspiration.”
♦ “Nettelhorst Elementary School had been on the decline since the 1960s when families living in its Chicago North Side neighborhood fled to the suburbs. As the neighborhood rebounded, the school did not. Then eight energetic women meeting in a nearby park, frustrated that their soon-to-be-school-age children had so few options—either pricey private schools or excruciating competition for the few slots in public magnet schools—decided to take up the challenge of resurrecting a school plagued by declining enrollment and low achievement. Edelberg was part of that parent group; Kurland was the new principal, receptive to new ideas and active parents. In this highly informative book, Edelberg and Kurland essentially lay out a model for reviving the neighborhood school. They detail the struggles, from tensions with some teachers, to a lack of cooperation with school bureaucracy, to charges by some parents that the school was being gentrified. The reformers knew they had to focus on the essentials: develop partnerships with local businesses and nonprofit organizations, improve academic performance, and improve the school’s image to attract more middle-class families. After all the joy and struggle, the group transformed the school into a high performer that has been acclaimed nationally for its achievement. This is a compelling story of transformation and an incredibly helpful resource—a blueprint—for parents similarly motivated“.— Vanessa Bush
“Parents living in the Chicago district served by the notoriously run-down Nettelhorst School—not necessarily failing, but with an unshakeable reputation for it—faced a too-typical dilemma: try to get their children into ultra-competitive magnet schools? Find a way to pay for private school tuition? Move to the better-served suburbs? Instead, a small group of motivated parents, including author Edelberg, decided to take a whole new approach—work with principal Kurland to turn Nettelhorst into the school they wanted. Sooner than anyone expected, they had turned the flagging institution around; chronicled here, their process for revitalizing the local school provides an inspirational blueprint for any parents determined to make the most of public education. Edelberg and Kurland offer a lot of inspirational ideas in this memoir of their work but, aside from acknowledging the distinct advantage of a parent population with extra time and finances, they provide little perspective for those working for the same goals but with fewer resources. Still, this volume is an admirable achievement that will doubtless be looked to as a model for school districts in need.”
“If all my schools were like Nettelhorst, I’d have fewer gray hairs. Nettelhorst has hit a
—Arne Duncan, former Superintendent, Chicago Public Schools
“Against the many daunting challenges facing urban neighborhoods, Susan Kurland and Jacqueline Edelberg provide a simple solution: our children.
In communities throughout the country, one in three young children enters kindergarten without the skills needed to succeed in school. If a child does not receive a quality education early in life, whole communities will find themselves spending more time and money – and with decreasing results – down the line trying to help that child catch up, instead of helping that child thrive.
Nettelhorst’s families, teachers, administrators, businesses and residents found that, in turning their school around, they transformed their own community in the process. Thanks to their energies, we have our most powerful example yet that great urban change must start with our youngest members – not because we think we should, but because it works. Education is transformation, and Nettelhorst has reinvigorated the community school as a model that creates true change not just for schools, but for entire urban neighborhoods.
There is struggle in these pages but also joy. I recommend this book to anyone who is serious about changing America’s urban landscape. The Nettelhorst story is one not just to emulate but to celebrate.”
—James Cleveland, President, Jumpstart for Young Children
“This well-written account is a refreshing break from the polarizing debates over whose responsibility it is to reform public education. Principals can’t do it without parents, and vice-versa. Nettelhorst’s success story is due to a remarkable grass-roots effort that could and should be replicated across the nation; this book offers valuable insight into the process for anyone willing to try.”
—Diane Foote, MLS, and former Executive Director, Association for Library Service to Children
“This is a remarkable story of school transformation. Jacqueline’s account demonstrates what is possible when there is strong leadership and vision from parents, which can be the catalyst for attracting and motivating teachers who are dedicated and willing to do whatever it takes to give students the opportunities they deserve. We are proud to have played a role in this story.”
—Josh Anderson, Executive Director, Teach for America – Chicago
“How to Walk to School has a crucial message for our entire nation during this time of pressing need for educational reform, for stepped-up parental involvement, and for high quality, early childhood education. Scholars write reams about school reform and how to do it. However, what they say rarely communicates effectively or reaches those in a position to implement their ideas. Our schools and parents can take vital, understandable lessons from the Nettelhorst blueprint—plus incredible inspiration, which is so essential to energizing action. I stand in awe of what this school community has accomplished…”
⎯Laura E. Berk, Ph.D., distinguished professor of psychology, Illinois State University, and author of Awakening Children’s Minds: How Parents and Teachers Can Make a Difference
“After listening to Dr. Kurland and Jacqueline Edelberg tell the story of their collaboration at Nettelhorst, I was impressed. After touring the colorful, beautiful, magical hallways and classrooms of the school, I was blown away. Nettelhorst represents what the research supports: when parents, schools, and communities become collaborative partners, children learn and thrive. Nettelhorst is proof that creative, intelligent stakeholders who come together to care about kids can effect amazing transformations.
In my capacity as an education professor, I supervise student internships at many schools around the Chicago metropolitan area. None of the schools I visit look or feel like Nettelhorst. None of the schools have parents who are so active and are so welcomed by the administration. None of the schools have that same sense of community. In this day and age of school choice and increased adversarial relations, we need to emulate the Nettelhorst model. We need collaboration. We need cooperation. We need community. Nettelhorst has really figured it out.”
—Andrea Kayne Kaufman, Associate Professor, DePaul University, School of Education
“Chicago’s Nettelhorst School is a wonderful example of the implementation of the community school model at its strongest. The Nettelhorst team has crafted a community school that meets the needs of students, families and community members; engages parents and community members; and maximizes the resources within the building and beyond. The results speak for themselves — student achievement is rising, families are receiving support, and the community is stronger due to the school’s presence and participation. This book presents a compelling road map for schools hoping to make similar transformations.
All the research and anecdotal evidence shows how community schools have benefited children and adults in communities all over Illinois and across the nation. Students thrive when the parents and community members take ownership for the success of the school. Today’s students are tomorrow’s wage earners, taxpayers, citizens and community members. Nettelhorst is proof positive that the community school model can provide a comprehensive and dynamic learning opportunity.
The critical time to act is now — we cannot wait any longer to meet children’s needs and improve their chances of success in adulthood.”
— Susan Armato, Executive Director, the Federation for Community Schools
“Oftentimes, the dual pressures of academic testing and scarce resources leads schools to neglect students’ physical and mental health needs. Susan Kurland’s relentless drive to bring community-based health initiatives to Nettelhorst proves what the research supports: healthy students are better learners. How to Walk to School shows that when an entire school community works together to meet the needs of the whole child, everyone wins.”
—Emily Gadola, Stakeholders Collaboration to Improve Student Health
“As principal of Nettelhorst, Susan Kurland made healthy eating and active lifestyles a priority throughout the school. Her work is a shining example of how parents and school leaders can work together to truly create a culture of wellness that educates the whole child. The benefits for children’s health, for their learning, and for the entire community are tremendous.“—Rochelle Davis, CEO, Healthy Schools Campaign
“Nettelhorst School’s transformation from a struggling school into a vibrant educational community is an inspiration. I hope their story, a story of dedicated parents and innovative administrators, will embolden reformers across the country to step forward and take back their schools.”
—Richard J. Durbin, United States Senator for Illinois, Assistant Majority Leader
“Jacqueline Edelberg and Susan Kurland did a remarkable job transforming the Nettelhorst School. Our nation could use more crusaders like them to help reform public education.” —John Kerry, United States Senator for Massachusetts
“Every child in America deserves a stellar education. If you ever wondered what you could do to make this a reality, the Nettelhorst road map provides the answers. Ambitious and well written, How to Walk to School promises to reframe the debate on school reform. A must read.”
—John Cullerton, Senator of Illinois’ 6th District
“Neighbors, parents, teachers, and students have poured themselves into making this little school a place to be proud of. If everyone followed their lead, together we could change the face of public education in America.”
—Sara Feigenholtz, State Representative of Illinois’ 12th District
“How to Walk to School shows great things can happen when an energetic principal, committed parents, and a supportive community come together to transform a struggling school. It is a must read for anyone interested in how to improve urban education. Kudos to Jacqueline and Susan for their amazing story.”
—Tom Tunney, Alderman of the 44th Ward, City of Chicago
“Nettelhorst has seen an unbelievable change, from caterpillar to butterfly, and it happened right in my own backyard in Chicago. How to Walk to School moved me to tears…it’s one of the most absolutely beautiful, heartwarming stories I’ve read in a long time.”
—Nate Berkus, decorator and featured design expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show
“What the Nettelhorst parents have managed to accomplish with so few resources is awe-inspiring. If every school community followed their bold example, more people would be willing to invest in public education. In our challenging economy, this honest and straight-forward blueprint could not be more timely or more vital.”
—Steven Anixter, L&R Anixter Foundation
“If I lived in Chicago, there’s no question that my kids would go to Nettelhorst. What kid wouldn’t want to go to there?”
—Jeff Garlin, Curb Your Enthusiasm
“Nettelhorst parents have become experts at forging mutually beneficial relationships with private organizations. This inspiring playbook shows how tenacity, creativity and infectious enthusiasm can achieve stunning results.”
—John McDonough, President of the Chicago Blackhawks
“City parents always have, and always will, make neighborhood schools their highest priority as they work to revitalize their communities. Jacqueline has taken this concept to the highest level ever, with magnificent success.”
—Marilyn Eisenberg, co-founder of the Chicago Childrens Museum
“What does it take to turn a struggling neighborhood school around? It shows how a little hope and a lot of community muscle can change a public school overnight. How to Walk to School will inspire you to roll up your shirtsleeves, grab a paintbrush, and make your own neighborhood school a place to cherish.”
—Ron Reason, photographer, gallery owner, journalist and educator
“What makes East Lakeview such a unique and dynamic place to live is the successful convergence of an active street life consisting of a diverse and engaged population; an incredible variety of retail shops, restaurants & cafes; and now, at the center of it all, a neighborhood public school which serves as a life-source of energy to the entire community. How to Walk to School is an essential road-map for anyone who wants to raise children in a city.”
—Brad Lippitz, The Brad Lippitz Real Estate Group
“So many middle-class families would love to reclaim their neighborhood school, if only they knew how to start. In Chicago, a handful of school communities have followed the Nettelhorst blueprint, added their own unique spirit, and achieved remarkable success. How to Walk to School should be required reading for stroller moms everywhere.”
—Terri Versace, parent and founding member of WatersToday
“It’s a success to make Mayor Daley proud . . .”—Chicago Sun Times, “N. Side school fights to attract N. Side kids,” April 3, 2005
“A Chicago public school has gone from one of the worst to one of the best . . .” —CBS 2 Chicago, “Inside a Chicago School Public School That’s Turned Itself Around,” May 4, 2007.
“The Nettelhorst School is a vibrant and dynamic school, but just a few years ago, it was far from being a school of choice . . . in four years, test scores have more than doubled . . .”
—PBS, WTTW, “Chicago Matters: Valuing Education, Bake sales and Beyond,” June 6, 2006
“Over the last year . . . local parents have overseen a remarkable transformation at Nettelhorst . . .”—Chicago Reader, “A Touch of Class,” October 3, 2003
“The 110-year-old school is in the midst of a renaissance . . .”— Chicago Sun-Times, “Upgrading Community Expectations,” March 4, 2003
“The [Nettelhorst] Parents’ Co-op is an excellent example of what concerned neighbors can do when they put their heads together and serves as a model other needy schools should emulate . . .”—Skyline, “Local Forum,” February 20, 2003
“This 110-year-old public school—largely forsaken by residents of its white, middle-class area north of downtown—is experiencing a rebirth . . .”—Education Week, “Community Schools Cooking Up Local Support in Chicago,” December 3, 2003
“The salad bar at Chicago’s Nettelhorst Elementary School . . . is one way the school is promoting healthier choices for students. It also teaches nutrition, has an after-school cooking program, has reinstituted recess, and has dance and physical education classes—the sorts of programs needed at far more schools, children’s health advocates say, given the rise in childhood obesity.”—Christian Science Monitor, “Overweight Kids: Schools Take Action,” May 2, 2006
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