Searching for Hope: Life at a Failing School in the Heart of America

Searching for Hope: Life at a Failing School in the Heart of America

Searching for Hope: Life at a Failing School in the Heart of America

Searching for Hope: Life at a Failing School in the Heart of America


Searching for Hope is a gripping account of life in a once-great high school in a rough Indianapolis neighborhood. Granted unfiltered access to Manual High throughout an entire school year, award-winning journalist Matthew Tully tells the complex story of the everyday drama, failures, and triumphs in one of the nation's many troubled urban public high schools. He walks readers into classrooms, offices, and hallways, painting a vivid picture of the profound academic problems, deep frustrations, and apathy that absorb and sometimes consume students, teachers, and administrators. Yet this intimate view also reveals the hopes, dreams, and untapped talents of some amazing individuals. Providing insights into the challenges confronting those who seek to improve the quality of America's schools, Tully argues that school leaders and policy makers must rally communities to heartfelt engagement with their schools if the crippling social and economic threats to cities such as Indianapolis are to be averted.


The third week of the 2009/2010 school year was coming to a merciful end. It had been a week full of problems, headaches, and disasters. But that’s pretty much how every week is at Manual High School. Administrators were frustrated that hundreds of students still hadn’t shown up for school, or had shown up but immediately stopped coming, or were only coming occasionally. Day after day, teachers complained about students who cursed at them in the hallways, strolled into class late and left early, or threw fits that disrupted their classrooms. A few students in this school of about nine hundred had already been arrested or expelled for dealing drugs, having sex in a locker room, or threatening teachers. “Something’s in the air this year,” Terry Hoover, the school’s tough-talking dean of discipline, told me that Friday morning. “I can already feel it.”

I had been at the school every day for the past three weeks, working on a series of columns for my newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, about the struggles and challenges facing failing urban schools. Manual was one of several such schools in Indianapolis, riding a graduation rate of only 39 percent, test scores that showed far more students failing than passing, and a poverty problem that cruelly gripped most of the students who walked through the halls.

My embedment into Manual had been highly successful so far. At least that’s what I thought on that hot Friday afternoon as I stood on the steps overlooking the school’s courtyard and watched as hundreds of students raced to waiting school buses. I had written two front-page columns so far—one that exposed many of the problems that held the school back, from discipline and drugs to apathy and academic failure, and another that told of the struggles the school faced just to get kids to show up in the first place.

The columns received a tremendous response from readers. Through dozens of e-mails and phone calls, they had told me they’d had no idea that the things I was writing about actually occurred in schools in the mild-mannered city of Indianapolis. They cringed at the tales of burned-out teachers and the stories . . .

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