How to Walk to School: Blueprint for a Neighborhood Renaissance

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When two gutsy moms ventured inside Nettelhorst, their neighborhood's underutilized and struggling public elementary school, the new principal asked what it would take for them to enroll their children. Stunned by her candor, they returned the next day armed with an extensive wish list. The principal read their list and said "Well, let's get started, girls! It's going to be a busy year . . . "

How to Walk to School is the story—from the highs to the lows—of motivated neighborhood parents galvanizing and then organizing an entire community to take a leap of faith, transforming a challenged urban school into one of Chicago's best, virtually overnight.

The fate of public education is not beyond our control. In How to Walk to School, Susan Kurland, Nettelhorst's new and entrepreneurial principal, and Jacqueline Edelberg, the neighborhood mom, provide an accessible and honest blueprint for reclaiming the great public schools our children deserve.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Sun-Times
The 110-year-old school is in the midst of a renaissance . . .
Cbs 2 Chicago
A Chicago public school has gone from one of the worst to one of the best . . .
Chicago Reader
Over the last year . . . local parents have overseen a remarkable transformation at Nettelhorst . . .
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 . . .
Education Week
This 110-year-old public school-largely forsaken by residents of its white, middle-class area north of downtown-is experiencing a rebirth . . .
Christian Science Monitor
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.
The Dallas Morning News
In their subsequent book about the experience, How to Walk to School, Edelberg and Kurland describe how a group of mothers, working with a supportive principal, took a leap of faith that changing the school's environment would, in turn, transform its quality of education
Starred Review Booklist
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.
Multicultural Review
To read it is to come away inspired with the idea that regardless of one's community setting, it is vital to get parents and local businesses involved in the life of one's school....This book is a blueprint for showing how to break down those walls that separate to achieve a human and financial renaissance.
Andrea Kayne Kaufman
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.

Susan Arnato
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.

Emily Gadola
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.
Rochelle Davis
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.
John Kerry
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 Cullerton
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.
Steven Anixter
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.
Jeff Garlin
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?
Ron Reason
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.
Terri Versace
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.
Wttw Pbs
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 . . .
John McDonough
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.
Nate Berkus
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.
Marilyn Eisenberg
City parents always have, and always will, make neighborhood schools their highest priority as they work to revitalize their communities. Edelberg has taken this concept to the highest level ever, with magnificent success.
Laura E. Berk
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 parent 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.

Diane Foote
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 grassroots effort that could and should be replicated across the nation; this book offers valuable insight into the process for anyone willing to try.
James Cleveland
Against the many daunting challenges facing urban neighborhoods, Jacqueline Edelberg and Susan Kurland 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—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.
Tom Tunney
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 improving urban education. Kudos to Edelberg and Kurland for their amazing story.
Richard J. Durbin
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.
Brad Lippitz
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.
Sara Feigenholtz
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.
Arne Duncan
If all my schools were like Nettelhorst, I'd have fewer gray hairs. Nettelhorst has hit a home run.
Josh Anderson
This is a remarkable story of school transformation. Edelberg and Kurland'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.
CBS Chicago
A Chicago public school has gone from one of the worst to one of the best . . .
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 . . .
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 . . .
The Christian Science Monitor
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.
Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
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.—Gloria Creed-Dikeogu, Ottawa Univ Lib.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442200005
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/25/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 180
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jacqueline Edelberg has been the driving force behind the Nettelhorst School's dramatic turn around, a story that has been featured on Oprah & Friends, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, CNN, 60 Minutes, Education Weekly, and in the local Chicago media. A writer, artist, and community activist, Jacqueline blogs about education reform for the Huffington Post. She has consulted for school districts, civic groups, foundations, universities and parent organizations on how public schools and reformers can galvanize communities to improve public education. Before devoting herself to art, community organizing, and cutting the crusts off bread, Jacqueline taught political science at the University of Osnabrück in Germany as a Fulbright scholar. She earned her bachelor's degree and doctorate from the University of Chicago. Susan Kurland left Nettelhorst to form City Schoolhouse, LLC, a consultancy that advises school communities on best practices. As CEO, she helps principals, parent leaders, and universities develop instructional leadership teams, channel community resources, and formulate health and wellness policies. Currently, Susan is the educational director of Gallery 37, an organization that provides arts opportunities to Chicago's youth. She has consulted on behalf of the University of Illinois, the Chicago Public Schools, and the Community Schools' Initiative for the Chicago Community Trust. Susan earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from the City University of New York, and her doctorate from Loyola University of Chicago.
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Table of Contents

Foreword by Arne Duncan

Chapter 1: Dream a Future: Identify Opportunities
Chapter 2: Chemistry: Capitalize on Desire
Chapter 3: Support Systems: Contract Services
Chapter 4: Academics: Raise the Bar
Chapter 5: Sell the Dream: Rebrand and Reposition
Chapter 6: Fundraising: Look Beyond a Climate of Care
Chapter 7: The Nettelhorst Blueprint

Afterword by Rahm Emanuel
Appendix A: Toolkit: How to Set-up a 501(c)(3)
Appendix B: How to Learn More

About the Authors
A Call to Action

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 28, 2009

    How to Change a Neighborhood

    In Jacqueline Edelberg and Susan Kurland's book, How to Walk to School, they detail their experience in taking a neighborhood school with declining enrollment and abysmal test scores and attempt to turn it around. With their vision, they begin a renaissance of a school that has been in existence for decades. In doing so, the neighborhood has grown to reap the benefits of this rebirth.

    The school buzzes with excitement on Saturdays when the seasonal market is
    open, and people are interested in buying real estate in the area, so they may someday send their children to this school.

    An inspirational story of how you can implement change. The perseverance and dedication of the key members of this community and their desire to see their dream come true make a truly inspirational tale.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2009

    A must read for new teachers and parents.

    I loved the honesty of this book. Neighborhood school and memories of past positive things is what we crave for. This book shows the hard work and determination of a principal with parents and neighbors who made a difference. They were all lucky to have each other as vested interested members of this group that was determined to succeed.

    To create an environmet that we want for our children is a daily issue. It changes as our children grow nad the same is true for this school. The issues changed and grew.
    My hat is off to all of them for doing it right.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 21, 2009

    self congratulation sells five copies

    Parents in a ritzy neighborhood decide to send their kids to the local public school. Since the rich kids take the place of poor kids formerly bused in, test scores rise, along socioeconomic status. The principal, who really ain't so hot, congratulates herself by writing, or getting a ghost to write, a book. Nobody reads the book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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