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Our School

Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds (Palgrave Macmillan, Nov. 29, 2005) tells the saga of a San Jose charter high school that prepares underachievers — most from Mexican immigrant families — to succeed at four-year colleges. Buy the book in hardcover or paperback. It’s also available in Kindle format.

Downtown College Prep teachers don’t tell D and F students they’re wonderful. They tell them they’re capable of improving. And they are: The school now boasts one of the highest pass rates in San Jose on the state graduation exam. All graduates go on to college.

Self-proclaimed “grumpy optimists” Greg Lippman and Jennifer Andaluz recruited students who were “failing but not in jail,” and promised them a chance to go to college.

The average student starts ninth grade with fifth-grade reading and math skills. Our School shows how a do-it-yourself school with a work-your-butt-off philosophy can make a difference. Roberto finds his voice — in English — and fights his way to the honor roll.  He goes on to study construction management at Chico States. Jorge, who’d read “ride the carousel” as “ride the carrot salad” as a freshman, stands in the outfield joking that “fair is foul and foul is fair.” He’d read Macbeth in sophomore English. (Jorge earned a psychology degree at Cal State Monterey Bay and plans to be a school psychologist.) The girls’ basketball team loses every game by more than 20 points, keeps playing and wins in the end. (The star player, a five-two Cambodian girl, went on to Cal Poly. Another girl won a full scholarship to Mount Holyoke, where she earned a math degree. She’s now teaching math at a San Jose charter school.)

The book features writing by students, teachers and the principal, including Pedro’s rap, essays by Gil and Emilia, Roberto’s speech, a discipline report on Hector, a teachers’ list of DCP jargon, the principal’s e-mail conversations with teachers, a phony field trip permission slip created by a girl who wanted a parent-free weekend and a copy of the school’s budget.

While the book puts DCP in the context of the charter school movement, it’s not written solely for educators and policy wonks. I think of Our School as an adventure story.

— Joanne Jacobs 

My favorite reviews

“Joanne Jacobs’s Our School, a vivid account of the creation and first years of a charter high school in San Jose, Calif., . . . reads like a novel whose characters are both stereotypical and improbable. . . But this isn’t fiction. The challenges are real, the stakes high, the lessons important — and the achievements extraordinary.”
— Henry Miller, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 17, 2005

“Our School (Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2005) is eye-opening, chilling and inspiring. Up-close and personal, it follows the lives of the students, parents and faculty who had faith that they could break free and succeed.”
— Daniel Weintraub, Sacramento Bee, Nov. 20, 2005

“Our School is wonderfully written and wonderfully informative. I cannot think of another book that provides such a close and honest look at a successful charter school serving immigrant kids in grave danger of striking out in American life. The fascinating story that Joanne Jacobs tells zips along like a good novel, but it also delivers an important and optimistic message to educators who want to rescue kids.”

–Abigail Thernstrom, co-author of No Excuses and America in Black and White

“Joanne Jacobs has written a ground-breaking book about the most interesting, and potentially important, change in American schooling in the last 15 years.”

–Jay Mathews, Washington Post education columnist, author of Harvard Schmarvard, Escalante, and Class Struggle

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