Author tells positive stories in new U46 book
By Emily McFarlan firstname.lastname@example.org June 1, 2012 3:20PM
A Publication party for the new book "LOOKING IN, LOOKING UP: A YEAR WITH SCHOOL DISTRICT U-46," by writer George Rawlinson took place Thursday night at the Elgin Public House. May 31, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 6, 2012 10:44AM
ELGIN — When Traci O’Neal Ellis of Elgin tried to think of places she could give back to her community — places where she had “sucked the most resources” — it was School District U46.
Ellis attended U46 schools. She met her husband, Elgin Public Works Supervisor Rick Ellis, in fifth grade at Century Oaks Elementary School in Elgin. Their children attended U46 schools.
Her mother, Carolyn O’Neal, was a teacher and principal of Oakhill Elementary School in Streamwood. Her late father, Ron O’Neal, was a teacher and longtime principal of Elgin High School, the first black U46 principal and a Kane County Educator of the Year.
Ellis now is a member of the U46 Board of Education, and hers is just one of the stories shared in Elgin author George Rawlinson’s just-released book “Looking In, Looking Up: A Year with School District U46.”
“It was very cool. It kind of captured, for me, the essence of how I feel about U46,” she said.
Rawlinson, who has written for The Courier-News and now published four books, signed copies of “Looking In, Looking Up: A Year with School District U46” at a publication party Thursday night at the Elgin Public House. More than 75 people passed through the event, including Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain, U46 Superintendent Jose Torres, U46 Board of Education members, administrators, teachers and students.
The book is “part daily diary, part academic travelogue,” according to Rawlinson, recording his travels from school to school, looking for positive stories in the Elgin school district, during the 2010-11 school year.
The idea for “Looking In, Looking Up: A Year with School District U46” came from conversations between the author and Torres at a book-signing event for his last book, “Elgin People, Elgin Pets.”
The two initially had discussed a book about Torres’ 10 Boys Initiative, which partners U46 staff mentors with groups of 10 underperforming elementary, middle and high school boys, Rawlinson said. The superintendent described it as “like a ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ about the initiative,” a project he still is interested in pursuing.
“It was very inspirational, but also very repetitive. It wasn’t enough for a book,” Rawlinson said.
It also didn’t reflect the diversity of people and programming in a district the size of U46, he said. The district is the second largest in the state of Illinois, educating more than 40,000 children. It is 90 square miles, including parts of 11 communities, ranging from rural Wayne to urban Elgin, in three counties.
And the author said it was important to him his book was as diverse as the district itself.
In it, he tells the story of Ellis, of “academic achiever” and former school board student adviser Nasir Almasri of Streamwood, of the 700 books the parent company of Fisher Nuts donated to Century Oaks Elementary School in Elgin and the volunteers behind the U46 Educational Foundation.
He also tells the stories of Eric and Kevin Echevarria of Elgin, who were “average students at best,” he said. That didn’t mean they still can’t be successful, he said: Eric Echevarria is an Elgin police officer and Kevin Echevarria owns a Puerto Rican restaurant on Villa Street.
“There are so many positive things going on in the district that people don’t know about,” he said.
Until he began researching the book, that included the author. Rawlinson never attended a U46 school, he said. He didn’t know any of the people he interviewed.
But he went about it as an “investigative writer,” he said, stopping in at different schools, asking for interesting stories, leaving behind his business cards and following leads. Torres gave him “free rein” to find those stories and “never censored anything I did,” he said.
The superintendent said he hasn’t yet read the whole book, but it was “designed to be positive.”
“If you’re looking for dirt on U46, don’t buy this book. But if you’re looking for positive stories on neighbors and people in the district, this is the book to read.”
And Rawlinson acknowledged, “If there’s a criticism of the book, it’ll be that it’s too positive, too Pollyanna-ish. I know about the negativity of our generation, the negativity of our era, but there are a lot of positive things.”
“You don’t have to be Pollyanna to be positive.”
Rawlinson said “Looking In, Looking Up: A Year with School District U46” will be available on Amazon.com and in other places in about a week.
For more information, contact the author through State Street Publishing at 847-902-3664 or email@example.com.