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A Light Shines in Harlem

A Light Shines in Harlem tells the fascinating story of the Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem, the first charter school in New York, and of the charter movement. It is a penetrating look at the host of real-world decisions that make a charter school, or any school, succeed. And it is a true-to-life inspirational tale of how a hero of the civil rights movement, a Wall Street star, educators, inner-city activists, parents, and students all joined together to create a groundbreaking school that, in its best years, far outperformed other schools in the neighborhoods in which most of its children lived.


This book also looks at education reform through a broader lens. It discusses the most recent research and issues facing the charter movement, a movement which now educates more than 2.5 million students nationwide. A Light Shines in Harlem describes the strengths and weaknesses of charter schools and explains how lessons from them can be applied to other schools to make all schools better. The result is not only the gripping inside narrative of how one school fought to succeed despite the odds but also an illuminating glimpse into the future of American education.

A Light Shines in Harlem is "a wonderful tribute to Sisulu-Walker..."—President Bill Clinton


Publishers Weekly

One of ten non-fiction books recommended on Publishers Weekly’s “Notable African-American Interest Titles, Fall 2014-Spring 2015” 


The New York Times

 “A Light Shines in Harlem by Mary C. Bounds is an accomplished journalist’s microcosmic retrospective on the Sisulu-Walker Charter School…So much about quality education seems like common sense, but thanks to Ms. Bounds for reminding us…Exploring ‘the hundreds of small decisions and big risks that go into creating and leading a school, not the generalities of textbooks and manifestoes,’ Ms. Bounds encapsulates solutions.”—Sam Roberts


The Harvard Kennedy School’s Education Next journal

"From this book one learns how difficult and complicated it is to open a charter school." —Nathan Glazer, professor emeritus of education and sociology at Harvard University


The Huffington Post

“A Light Shines in Harlem tracks the tenacity and heroism of a few of the reform movement's earliest and lesser known pioneers, in standing up to those who refused to give up their power to allow new lights to shine, no matter how successful they were.”—Jeanne Allen


The Manhattan Institute’s City Journal

“At its heart, A Light Shines is the story of an unlikely partnership between a Wall Street hotshot and a Harlem minister, the little-school-that-could they created together on 115th Street, and the path that they’ve charted for educational equity in New York—and across the nation.—Charles Upton Sahm


The Harvard University Kennedy School’s Education Next journal

One of seven books that landed on Education Next”s “Education Books Make Great Gifts”


The Center for Education Reform Newswire

“A new, must-read book that tells the poignant, impactful story of Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem, the first-ever charter school to open in New York.”

More Reviews:

"A Light Shines in Harlem is the title of a new, must-read book that tells the poignant, impactful story of Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem, the first-ever charter school to open in New York. The book chronicles in accessible fashion the school’s founding and development, and what took place behind the scenes to make Sisulu-Walker a reality for New York students. Written by Mary C. Bounds, the book includes a foreword by Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, Sisulu-Walker co-founder and civil rights hero who served as Martin Luther King’s chief of staff and head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) during the 1950s and early 60s. But most interesting is the book’s incorporation of the charter school movement as a whole, recent studies corroborating charter achievement, and what challenges lie ahead. This type of perspective is critical, because as Dr. Walker writes, 'In the charter movement, I am continuing the work of Dr. King that has far-reaching meaning. Every American child is deserving of a quality public school education. It is education that will guarantee that segregation and second-class citizenship will never return!'"—Education Reform Newswire

“Each school has its own story, but few are chronicled as honestly, openly, and passionately as in this engaging volume. You will learn to love this school built with the same passion that inspired those who walked with Dr. Martin Luther King.” —Professor Paul E. Peterson, director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University and author of Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning

“A beautifully written and meticulously researched story about New York’s first charter school and the heroic folks who were responsible for creating this groundbreaking educational institution. It is a riveting story with a host of exceptional characters who turned a dream into a reality.” —Sy Fliegel, author of Miracle in East Harlem: The Fight for Choice in Public Education

“A must-read for anyone who cares about improving our educational system. Mary Bounds has researched and written an important story detailing the tenacious process required to establish charter schools in New York. It is a well-told narrative about launching a successful program that can enrich the education of every child in America.” —George E. Pataki, former governor of New York

“A Light Shines in Harlem tells the truly remarkable story behind New York City’s charter schools and the people who paved the way for lights to shine for more children. Read it and you’ll understand why charter schools were created and how they are the most important lever for social and economic equity this nation has ever seen.” —Jeanne Allen, Founder, Senior Fellow, and president emeritus of The Center for Education Reform

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