Thursday, April 19, 2012

New Video

The Indianapolis Marion County Public Library did an interview with me. Check it out.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Signing Party

I hope you can all stop by my official -- and very casual -- book launch party. It is tonight (Friday) at BookMamas, a great local bookstore in the Irvington neighborhood of Indianapolis. The address is 9 S. Johnson Ave., and it is just east of the intersection of Washington and Ritter.

Meantime, here is a piece I wrote about my book for the Washington Post's political blog. And here is a column I wrote for Friday's Indy Star in the wake of a speech by presidential candidate Rick Santorum in which he called President Obama "a snob" for suggesting that students need to gain some sort of post-high school education. Additionally, here is the link to an interview I did about my book with Indianapolis TV legend Mike Ahern.

Finally, winners of the free autographed copies of "Searching for Hope" will be notified by email Friday afternoon. If you didn't win, my apologies. But win or lose, I hope to see you tonight at BookMamas.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Win an Autographed Copy!

WIN one of three autographed copies!*

To enter: email and include your name and mailing address.
Contest ends Thursday, 3/1/12 at 11:59 p.m. EST. Winners will be notified via email and books will ship via USPS.

*Entering the Searching for Hope Shelf Awareness contest will add you to the IU Press email list. To opt out, please request so in your email. Physical mailing addresses will be used only for the purpose of mailing winning copies.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The ManualAires Take Manhattan

Senior Justin Dennerline summed things up best after he and 18 of the Manual High School choir students I've followed played a concert on one of the world's most famous stages.
"You haven't lived until you've played Carnegie Hall," he said.
The ManualAires are a big part of my book, and I love the story of a group of students overcoming their surroundings. So watching them hit the Big Apple in recent days was nothing short of inspiring. It's the type of experience more students from schools such as Manual deserve, and it's easy to see how such experiences broaden the horizons of students who haven't spent much time outside of their little section of the world.
Here are the columns I wrote for The Star about the trip, as well as a video I made in New York.
On the way to NYC
After the concert
Video from New York

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The ManualAires

The title of my book, "Searching for Hope," refers to Spencer Lloyd's classroom.

Lloyd, just 25 when I first met him in 2009, is Manual High School's choir director. In a building too often filled with apathy and low expectations, he demands excellence from his students each day and has worked overtime since joining the school to rebuild its music program. He's a big dreamer. And, as I often tell people, whenever I would get depressed by the problems I saw at Manual I would go to Lloyd's classroom. The reason was simple: after sitting in his class for a while, I always found hope and a reason to believe that struggling schools could be turned around.

So it was exciting to spend time with Lloyd and his hardworking students yesterday as they headed to the airport on their way to New York and an appearance next week at Carnegie Hall. A year ago, I wrote about the choir's invitation to take part in a mass choir program at the famed concert hall. After learning that the school could not afford the trip, readers of the Indy Star sent in checks large and small -- more than covering the cost of the journey.

I'll have a column about the students leaving for New York in tomorrow's paper and will file another column from New York later in the week. I'll post the columns as they appear in the paper. For now, here is a video I made as they headed to the airport yesterday (also under the above "videos" tab).

Friday, February 10, 2012

A night in Bloomington

I spent last night in Bloomington on the campus of Indiana University talking to a group of students, faculty and others about education issues and my book. Many thanks to the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at the IU School of Education for organizing and hosting the event, and for arranging my first book-signing. (Personal note: By nature, I'm a pretty calm guy. But signing my books for the first time actually rattled me a bit -- in a very good way.)
Anyway, as I often say, if you want to be hopeful about the future of education in this country, just go talk a group of motivated education-school students. Last night's audience included roughly two dozen future teachers -- all of whom were engaged and curious, as well as excited, about the huge challenges they will face after graduating.
As I told them: it's no big deal, we're just expecting you to save the world.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The latest

As the official launch date (March 1) approaches, there have been a few developments related to "Searching for Hope."

1. The book, based on the year I spent at Manual High School, has arrived and pre-orders will soon be shipped out. I received my first copy Monday afternoon. I have to thank the amazing art department at IU Press for designing such a great cover, and my Indy Star colleague Danese Kenon for taking such wonderful pictures, including one from Graduation Day 2010 that graces the cover.

2. I will be on WIBC (93.1 FM) in Indianapolis Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. to talk with Steve Simpson about the book and other education and political issues.

3. I will be speaking at Indiana University about education issues and holding my first book signing Thursday at 6 p.m. The event will be held in the Dogwood Room at the Indiana Memorial Union. It is hosted by The Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at the IU School of Education. (The book will be available at the event but they can only accept cash and checks.)

4. I have recorded a podcast about the year I spent at Manual and the book. Just click on the podcast link to hear it.

5. Indianapolis Monthly has a nice piece on the book (including a picture of my favorite group, The ManualAires) in this month's print issue. It's on page 16.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Book Launch

Well, it's been roughly two-and-a-half years since I first stepped into Manual High School. After a year of columns, another year spent writing the book, and, now, several months of waiting, the book is about to be released. My publisher says the book will be available in mid-February at and in early March on Amazon and other such sites. The e-book will be available within a couple of weeks of the hardback release.

Obviously, I'm quite excited about the prospect of the book finally coming out. I'll share exact details shortly, but it looks like the book launch party will be in early March here in Indy. I hope you can make it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

About that trip to Carnegie Hall

My apologies for the delay in posting. With an infant son at home and a looming deadline for the book, well, you probably understand. Anyway, for those of you who don't know, the ManualAires are indeed going to Carnegie Hall. The response to my column was amazing and, at last count, readers had contributed roughly three times the $30,000 the choir needed.

The week after my column ran in the Indianapolis Star, I wrote a follow up. Here it is:

The ManualAires are going to Carnegie Hall.

They’re going thanks to the support of an 87-year-old woman who sent a check and a note about her fond memories of being in a high school choir “many moons ago.” They’re going because of the help of another woman who sent a contribution in memory of her grandfather, a 1913 Manual High School graduate. They’re going thanks to an anonymous donor who sent a check for $20,000 and another who sent in two crisp $1 bills.

The 20 members of the Manual High School show choir are going to New York City next winter because, once again, people in this community and beyond made clear how deeply they want to help hardworking students who need and deserve a boost. In letters and cards that flooded the high school last week, readers from Carmel to Indianapolis to Greenwood responded with amazing generosity to my May 8 column, in which I wrote about the choir’s opportunity to play Carnegie in February and its need to raise roughly $30,000 to do so.

By the end of the week, the local postal carrier had dropped off more than 300 letters at Manual’s main office. In all, those letters included roughly $60,000. Standing in front of his students Tuesday afternoon, a slightly stunned choir director Spencer Lloyd announced that the first batch of mail had raised enough to cover the cost of the trip.

“This is Indianapolis showing you they love you,” he told his students.

At that point, Lloyd told me later, one of his young singers, Chrystal Shirrell, spoke up about the plan for the choir to work hard to raise at least some of the money for the trip — with fundraisers, concerts and any other moneymaking ideas they could devise.

“Let’s still work,” the junior said. “We need to keep working and do more.”

With that spirit, the group will head to New York in February to sing in a midday concert featuring a handful of youth choirs from throughout the nation. They will sing the music of, and be conducted by, Greg Gilpin, an Indianapolis musician who pushed to have Manual included in the event. They will have the type of experience that is all too rare for students at struggling schools like this one on the city’s Southside.

When first invited, Lloyd and his students said raising the money for the trip seemed like a daunting task. The entire annual budget for the school’s choir program is only $1,000. Few students come from families who can afford trips to New York City; many of the students told me they’d never been outside Indiana.

Still, they hoped to raise money at their spring concert, coming up at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Manual, and by playing other events in the coming months. With the community outpouring, Lloyd said his students would now serve as timekeepers at an all-day swim meet this summer to raise spending money for their time in New York, which will include two days of rehearsals with top conductors. He also is sifting through a series of other fundraising opportunities and is promising to thank some donors with visits to their retirement communities, because he wants the students to work for this experience.

“This isn’t about entitlement,” he said. “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be amazing. But it’s also work.”

In the meantime, Lloyd is developing a plan for the excess money that arrived last week. It will not go to waste, he promised, and will be used to bolster the school’s fledgling choir and music programs.
Adding to the community support, local businessman and civic leader Al Hubbard reached out to Lloyd with an offer to finance the entire trip himself. When informed that the ManualAires had already raised enough money for the trip, Hubbard told Lloyd he would put $30,000 in an account that could be drawn down over the years for future needs.

First up, Lloyd said, part of that money would be used to build a digital piano lab so the school can expand its music offerings with a piano class — something schools in wealthier districts have but that Manual until now could not afford. He also will use some of the money for performance outfits for new students, for a trip to Chicago to see top-notch shows, and possibly to offer a small college scholarship to music students who overcome obstacles and thrive in high school.

Last week, the students began writing thank-you notes to the hundreds of people who contributed to their upcoming trip. And they enjoyed reading the personal notes many included.

“As great as the money is,” Lloyd said, “the stories they included are equally cool. I’m really hoping a lot of them come to our spring concert so we can put faces with the names and thank them in person.”

In a reminder of the importance of arts and music programs in schools, one man wrote about music classes helping him through tough times in high school and said choir was a high school highlight for his son, who has learning disabilities and other issues. Others offered contributions in honor of late relatives, teachers and friends. Mary Claycomb Adney, a 1938 Shortridge graduate, wrote of taking the train to New York as part of a school trip more than 70 years ago and said she wanted these students to have a similar experience.

“I admire your efforts and hope you can make the trip,” she wrote.

Thanks to Adney and many others, they can.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The ManualAires

I stopped by Manual High School this morning for the first time in months. It's always strange to walk into the building -- it's kind of like walking into a house that you once lived in. I spent so many hours there, hundreds of them, during the 2009/2010 year. These days, it seems familiar but odd.

Anyway, I was there to see Spencer Lloyd, the wonderful teacher I've written so much about, and his class of top choir students. They are called the Manual Aires and it's inspiring to see how far Lloyd has taken them in the past year. This morning, they sang "What a Wonderful World" to me in honor of my new son. It sounded beautiful. But this class is about more than music. Behind each voice is a story -- and often those stories are filled with sadness at the struggling school. Thanks to Lloyd, though, many of the students are more committed to school than they would otherwise be.

The choir, of course, plays a key role in my book, because of Lloyd's amazing work and also because of the wonderful December night in which thousands of people who'd read about him in my column flooded the school's annual holiday concert. That night remains a highlight of my life.

More than a year later, the choir now has an amazing opportunity. It has been invited to play Carnegie Hall next winter as part of a youth ensemble concert. For many of Lloyd's students, the trip to New York would represent their first trek out of Indiana. The cost is steep -- roughly $30,000 for the group of 20 Manual Aires. But, as Lloyd said, it would broaden their horizons and remind them that they are capable of so much.

The district doesn't have the money to fund the trip, and most of the students come from low-income homes with only minimal ability to chip in. So my Sunday column will urge readers of The Indianapolis Star to once again support a great teacher and a great program. They need roughly $4,000 in the short-term as a down payment. And while they will be holding fundraising events, I'm hoping readers of The Star will send them another reminder of how much this and other communities care about students in the failing schools we hear so much about.

The title of my book, "Searching for Hope," was based on Lloyd's class. Every time I found myself in desperate need of hope in a building that has little, I headed straight for the choir room. I always left feeling better, a bit more hopeful.