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July 04 , 2008

Chain Gang Elementary


After a murder at Bonaire Elementary, Richard and Anna Lee Gray seek a good school for their son Nick in a safe neighborhood. Their search leads them to Malliford, a ”school of excellence.” When redistricting sends scores of minority students to Malliford, iron-willed Principal Estelle Rutherford declares war on kids to raise test scores and save her reputation. Dissident parents revolt, electing Richard to head the Parent-Teacher Organization, and tensions explode. Welcome to Chain Gang Elementary, home to vast right-wing conspiracies, 3rd-grade gangsters, and bake sale embezzlers–where toxic childhood secrets boil over, reformers go stark raving mad, and culture wars escalate into armed conflict.

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ON HONORS DAY, Alicia Rodriguez sobbed and searched the crowd for a friendly face. She found Richard Gray and gazed at him plaintively.
They both knew the deal. He had coaxed her off the bus on the first day of school. Malliford was great, he told her. She would make lots of friends. But those were lies. Now the seven-year-old was in tears, publicly humiliated. How could he allow this after making such promises?

And there he had it: The little girl was a human sacrifice to test scores, and her treatment was a brutal refutation to Miz Rutherford’s clichés about diversity. This was wrong, and Richard had to do something, even if it was loud and stupid.

It was a Popeye moment. Richard couldn’t stand any more. If he’d had a can of spinach, he would have swallowed it in one gulp. Instead of a whistle blast from a corncob pipe, there was a scratchy squeak of chair legs as he stood. Three hundred people in the auditorium turned to stare
at the PTO president, wondering what the crazy fool who used a yo-yofor a gavel would do next.

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