From the Publisher
"If you have any doubt that an individual can change the world for the better, read this book."
- Joel Klein, former School Chancellor of New York City
"Getting to Bartlett Street is the inspiring story of a visionary couple who fought with grit and determination to ensure that families in New York's low-income communities can provide the education they want for their kids."
- Wendy Kopp, founder and chief executive officer of Teach for America
“In creating Beginning with Children School, Joe and Carol Reich created a new model school six years before charter legislation passed in New York. Many of the innovations in their groundbreaking work influenced charter school legislation in NY State and throughout the country. All those who succeeded them owe the Reichs a debt of gratitude.
- Jim Hunt, former 4-term Governor of North Carolina
"This is an inspiring and eye-opening book by two pioneers in the education reform movement that will make you believe in the goodness of people and the power of the human spirit."
- Eugene Lang, founder of "I Have A Dream" Foundation
“So much of our reform agenda has begun with the work that Carol and Joe pioneered.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Read an Excerpt
Carol's Story EXCERPT:
Despite the wonderful and encouraging progress Joe and I observed with students like Ingrid, James, and the others, I could never quite shake my initial belief that to truly have a lasting impact, we had to reach kids earlier than junior high school. This belief was further exacerbated about a year later, when Joe and I had an experience with our Dreamers that neither one of us will ever forget. It was a sunny afternoon in the spring of 1988, late into our first year of working with our Dreamers. We were at JHS 50 for an event with the students. Afterwards, Joe and I were standing on the sidewalk outside of the school when we inadvertently overheard the conversation among a small group of adults from the school standing nearby. Clearly not having noticed the two of us, they began to talk in harsh, agitated tones about the gathering. Apparently, these adults thought we were foolish and misguided to be offering to send the sixty-one Dreamers to college. It was the words of one woman who spoke next that made us both have to catch our breaths.
“Why would anyone do that for this garbage?” she asked the group. “They’re never going to amount to anything.”
We immediately turned to look at each other, each silently asking the same question: Had we heard the words right? Joe’s face was frozen in a look of surprise and horror. Garbage? What would cause a person to think and talk about children in such a way? I never thought for a minute that anything about what that woman said was accurate, but over and over again throughout the next several weeks, that wordgarbageechoed in my head. Every time I brought it up to Joe, we said the same thing: maybe it’s time to do something more.
It was Joe’s idea that we explore the idea of opening a school, and as soon as he suggested it to me I was on board. That’s not to say that I wasn’t totally skeptical about our chances of actually accomplishing it, but the idea of creating a school, and designing an education program that could enrich the lives of children in poverty was something I knew we had to try. Would we succeed? Who knew, but I was sure we’d give it our best shot.
I have always been committed to education, which might be due to the fact that, unlike my husband, who succeeded despite his early educational experiences, I had what I think was a dream of an education. This started even before I entered school, with my father, who instilled in me a great love of learning. He loved to buy me books and from the moment I learned to read, I could usually be found behind a book. To this day, one of the favorite things I own is an early edition of the Complete Works of Shakespeare illustrated by Rockwell Kent. My father gave this to me for my first birthday.
He also worked hard to expose me to the world. He was a doctor and on weekends he would take me with him to make house calls on the south side of Chicago, where the Mississippi migration stopped. There I was, a little girl of seven or eight, visiting families who were steeped in poverty, houses that were nothing more than four stories of wooden fire traps with attached porches.
There is an ancient Hebrew expression called tikkun olam, meaning: It's your job to make the world a better place than you found it. I didn’t know that word at the time, but my father taught it to me in his own way. “You see this, Carol?” he’d ask me during these house calls, after long conversations with his patients who discussed how much they struggled to make ends meet, to even just get by. “This is wrong, and it’s all of our responsibility to fix.”
My mother had a different opinion on these matters. This was, after all, the 1940s, and she felt that as a girl, my focus should be on learning how to develop my skills at attracting boys, rather than my intellect. Like most women her age, she didn’t go beyond high school, and she couldn’t seem to understand why I’d not just be happy to settle for the same. So she took away my books and gave me, instead, a charge account at the local Walgreens soda fountain in Chicago, hoping that I would spend my time there, trying to attract the attention of the young men. The plan was, to put it mildly, less than a resounding success.
A lot of schools talk about being progressive, but my school on the south side of Chicago, The Lab School, really was. John Dewey, the influential progressive educator and philosopher, had established The Lab School late in the 19th century to function as a laboratory to test his ideas about education. These could be summed up by his belief that “a child is a social being” with all that entails and that “the object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth.”
Dewey was a true visionary. The New York Times would later describe my school building in Hyde Park as “a Gothic pile across the street from the University of Chicago,” and that was about right. It was a Gothic pile. It was also a great school, which was why my father decided to send me there. At the time, it was very experimental, just half a generation away from Dewey’s inspiration, and unlike the segregated West Virginia schools of Joe’s experience, we had children of all kinds, all colors and all races. It was a time of a great progressive wave and of people believing in education.
My sixth grade teacher at the Lab School brought in Langston Hughes to teach poetry. The class had already been reading Hughes’ poetry and here was the man himself, right in front of us, gentle and commanding and eloquent all at once. Enrico Fermi, known for his work on the first nuclear reactor, and the winner of the 1938 Noble Prize in Physics, came in to teach us physics. His son was in the class and sat right next to me. (Never seeing an Italian boy before, I thought he was absolutely gorgeous.) It’s safe to say that I loved every minute I spent at the Lab School.
But, despite all of this, my mother remained worried that I was becoming too intellectual (savage was the word she preferred to use). So as part of her plan to make me over, she pulled me out of the Lab School at the end of eighth grade and enrolled me in a girls’ four-year finishing school, which I found so deathly boring that I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Taking the term “finishing” literally, I graduated in three years.
When I arrived at Cornell in the fall of 1953, it was just one of two co-ed universities in the Ivy League. This made the university progressive for its time, but only to an extent. More than 80 per cent of the student population was male and the female students were not always treated with total equality. For example, as women, we were all required to learn the most efficient way to iron a man’s shirt!
The shortage of women at Cornell also meant that we had our pick of dates. If there had been dance cards then, all of our cards would have been full. None of the young men I met the first few weeks interested me, and when a friend of mine suggested I go out with Joe Reicha boy I’d heard was really quite weirdI agreed. I was weird too. As one of my former high school teachers once said to me during a visit back to my school, “Dear, if we’d had the word then, you would have been a nerd.”
Two years later, I dropped out of Cornell to marry Joe. It was not necessarily an easy decision, because I loved school, but I felt I had no other choice. My father refused to cover the costs of my education if I got married. There was no way I wasn’t going to marry Joe Reich as soon as I could, and no way that Joe and I could have afforded to pay for it ourselves. Instead, I worked a few different, and exciting, jobsfor a Mexican television station in San Diego, a nuclear physicist at Stanford, and Pacific Telephone in Palo Alto (I lost that job when I asked to take off for the Jewish holidays). After our girls were born, I focused my efforts on helping Joe through his MBA at Stanford and raising our daughters, and eventually worked as an interior decorator. But through these years, I continued to crave a return to my aborted education. It’s odd to think about this now, but I often looked back at a specific moment in my life, that is as clear in my mind as if it happened yesterday. I was six at the time, and it was not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor. My father had been in the Navy and my family and I were on Coronado Island in the Pacific Ocean, waiting for my father’s ship to arrive. Standing on the beach, I drew a circle in the sand and in that moment, I had an understanding that I could never know how many grains of sand were in that circle; and then, a certain knowledge that one day my parents would die, and so would I. It was such a strange experience and it wasn’t until later in my life that I began to wonder how I’d learned to think in that way. I didn’t know the answer to that, but I did know one thing: I loved learning, and I desperately wanted to return to school.
I applied to NYU in 1973 when Janet, our youngest, was six and I was 37. Three years later in 1976 I earned my bachelors degree. I kept going, gaining admission to the PhD program in Developmental Psychology at CUNY, where I first earned a Masters and then, in 1986, after Debby and Marcia had graduated from college and Janet was a freshman at Stanford, my PhD. I was 50 years old at the time.
The day that I was bestowed my doctorate was a wonderful day. Debby was living in New York, Marcia came from Boston, and Janet arrived that morning on the red-eye from San Francisco, a complete surprise to me which she and Joe had planned for weeks. The ceremony was at Town Hall and we had to arrive early to rehearse. It wasn’t difficult: I was to rise from my seat, walk down the aisle, allow the dean to slip the hood over my head, covering my neck and falling down my back. After this, I was to return to my seat. When the ceremony started and I rose to stand, I realized that I had a large wad of gum stuck to the bottom of one of my shoes. I did the best I could, walking awkwardly toward the stage, my right foot sticking to the floor with each step. After the dean put on my hood, two members of the faculty stood and I was so sure that this wasn’t really happeningthat I hadn’t really earned a doctoratethat my first thought was Oh no! They’re standing to take it away! But fortunately, they let me keep it and after it was all over, Joe and the girls took me to a Japanese restaurant to celebrate. We sat on the floor and the girls presented me with a large collage they had made. It had photos of me through the years under the bold headline: MOM THE DOCTOR. As I looked through the photos, I couldn’t help but think of those weekend afternoons spent with my dad in the projects.