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New book about school turnaround in L.A. offers clues for NYC

So far, New York City hasn’t tried a turnaround, the most dramatic of the four school revamp strategies being pushed by the federal government, in which the principal and half of teachers are replaced. But next week, when the city is set to announce its revamp plans for 43 struggling schools, Green Dot Public Schools could get the green light for local turnarounds.

Green Dot, a charter school operator whose teachers work under a contract, launched its most prominent turnaround endeavor in 2008, when at teachers’ request it took over a failing high school in Los Angeles. A new book by Alexander Russo, “Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America’s Toughest High School,” looks at what happened inside Locke High School after Green Dot arrived.

Russo, an education journalist who runs two news blogs, This Week in Education and District 299, about Chicago’s schools, followed Locke’s teachers, students, and administration closely after the turnaround began. He chronicles a slow improvement in school culture and an even slower uptick in academic performance. Ultimately, “Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors” makes clear that no one should expect a school undergoing turnaround to, well, turn around, at least not immediately.

Visit the Community section to read an exclusive excerpt from the book, in which Russo describes the role of the teachers contract at Locke once it became a charter school. On Monday, Russo will participate in a discussion on “charter schools, teacher unions, and the state of education reform” hosted by the group Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century.

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