CLOSED [Giveaway] A parent-activist reads Richard Whitmire's "On the Rocketship"

A parent-activist reads Richard Whitmire's "On the Rocketship" | San Antonio Charter Moms

Richard Whitmire‘s new book, On the Rocketship, starts off right, with this dedication:

To the true disruptors: Rocketship parents pressing for better middle schools and high schools.

The author gave me a copy to give away to my readers. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment, no later than July 9, 2014 about what you hope to learn from the book; I will choose a winner at random and notify him or her by email on July 10. I hope, after you read it, you are just as excited as I am about the potential for fast-growing, high-performing charter schools like Rocketship to improve educational opportunities in San Antonio and beyond.

Rocketship is a charter management organization that operates clusters of elementary schools (K-5) serving predominantly low-income families who speak Spanish at home, helping those students to advance quickly and earn remarkably high scores on assessment tests.

Whitmire, a columnist and author, had remarkable access to Rocketship leaders in California as they dealt with setbacks and adjusted strategies. Whitmire also accompanied Rocketshp personnel into expansion cities, including Milwaukee and San Antonio.

I’ve been following the news about Rocketship since 2012, when my friend Victoria Rico (who gets her own chapter, “Stretching to Lure Top Charters: The San Antonio Story,” at pp. 187-91), trustee and chair of the Brackenridge Foundation, announced Rocketship as one of the high-performing, rapidly-expanding CMOs in the Choose to Succeed portfolio, as described in this earlier post.

On February 20, 2013, Kristoffer Haines and Charlie Bufalino hosted an information session in San Antonio, as I described in this earlier post. (Rocketship’s charter application stalled before the interview stage.) The Rocketship presentation impressed me (and my five-year-old son, F.T., who especially liked the teachers in the video), but then it seemed like the Rocketship team went sort of quiet for a while. As it happened, the following Monday, February 25, 2013, was “Smith’s Worst Monday Ever” (pp. 193-97), a moment of dramatic leadership and strategy change for Rocketship. Meanwhile, Haines had taken over recruiting at Southside Community Prep, Rocketship’s first campus in Milwaukee (pp. 183-85, 201-04), which opened somewhat below capacity in August 2013 (pp. 265-66).

Rocketship’s 2013 Texas charter application stalled before the interview stage, but in the epilogue (pp. 315-18), Whitmire notes that Rocketship is applying again in 2014 for a Texas charter, and has hired Jarrad Toussant full time in Texas (p. 316). In March 2014, Toussant organized another round of parent information sessions in Texas, as mentioned in this earlier post. Whitmire sees San Antonio as a dark horse candidate for a remarkable charter school growth story.

In addition to illuminating the inner workings of Rocketship, and placing it in the greater context of education reform movements and counter-movements, Whitmire’s book celebrates the role of parent-activists in helping Rocketship successfully launch and grow in California and Wisconsin.

Before Rocketship came along, conventional wisdom held that Latino parents, with their limited language skills, their need to work multiple jobs, and their deferential attitude toward authorities, especially school principals, would never be fully engaged with school and certainly could not emerge as highly visible policy activists.

at p. 37.

Whitmire describes the formula. Step 1: Get parents involved in their school. Step 2: Find a few of those parents who have exceptional organizational abilities and turn them into activists.

But there’s another level to parent organizing, a higher level, in which parents with hidden leadership talents can be identified, nurtured, and trained to lobby publicly not just for more Rocketships but for better schools to send their children to after Rocketship.

at p. 94.

Whitmire tells the story of Karen Martinez, mother of Danielle, a student at Rocketship Sí Se Puede. Before enrolling at Rocketship, Danielle was a third grader reading at a first-grade level, so she enrolled her at Rocketship. Martinez saw a Rocketship literature teacher connect with her daughter, and was deeply moved. Martinez volunteered with her school and also became a parent-advocate for Rocketship. She was able to turn the anger and frustration of seeing her daughter struggle at her previous school, and turn it into energy to spread the word about Rocketship and to help bring a high-performing middle school to her neighborhood. A story like that makes me get off my couch and cheer.

Whitmire’s book is rich with facts and anecdotes about this exciting moment in the growth of the charter school movement, as new data comes out about student success, and as charter schools and traditional school districts either clash or cooperate in different cities and regions across the country. I hope you’ll enter the book giveaway. To enter, leave a comment (no later than July 9, 2014) about what you hope to learn from the book; the randomly-selected will get an email from me on July 10.

To the disruptors! Cheers!

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Disclosure: The author gave me two copies of the book. I am giving away one copy on the blog, and the other copy will be a loaner for members of my discussion group on Facebook (new members welcome—just message me or ask to join). Opinions are my own, and I received no other compensation. In fact, I had already bought a copy to scribble on, and an e-book for quick searching, so I figure the author is probably breaking even on me.

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