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Book Review: Stray Dogs, Saints and Saviors

Title:  Stray Dogs, Saints and Saviors, by Alexander Russo. Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2011.

Description:  Wallowing in failure, Locke High School was the personification of a South Central Los Angeles “dropout factory.” For years this school was abandoned by anyone with the means to move to greener pastures. Practically left to “die,” the school became the target of a handful of believers who worked in secret in an attempt to turn around “America’s toughest high school.”

This is the backdrop for Russo’s story. It is a unique turnaround story in that Locke was written off a long time ago by nearly everyone. Faculty, parents, administration and unions all abandoned any hope of saving the school. Can a small band of reformers thwart years of neglect? Can a dead school make it all the way back? These are the questions that readers are faced with as they navigate the story.

Bottom Line:  Stray Dogs is definitely worth a read, especially since the book reads more like a thriller than your run-of-the-mill school turnaround story. Russo provides an unfiltered look into the goings on at Locke, painting a gritty portrait that readers may find tough to believe outside of a Hollywood film. Actual suspense is built as we’re taken into secret meetings and brought through confrontations.

Russo also does an admirable job of connecting readers to the characters in the story. He conveys their desire not just to reinvent the school, but to do it in a way that salvages its history. They don’t want to build a new school; rather, they want to make the one they have great.

About the Author:  Alexander Russo is an education writer whose work has appeared in Slate, Miller-McCune, Washington Monthly, Chicago Magazine, The Huffington Post, and the Washington Post. He is the author of three blogs: This Week in Education, District 299, and Hot for Education.

How to Purchase:  This title is available for $16.47 on


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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