The School within Us

The Creation of an Innovative Public School

By James Nehring

Subjects: New York/regional
Series: SUNY series, Democracy and Education, SUNY series, Restructuring and School Change
Paperback : 9780791435908, 234 pages, February 1998
Hardcover : 9780791435892, 234 pages, February 1998

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13


Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C
Appendix D

The inspirational story of a group of teachers, parents, and students who face and overcome many challenges in their struggle to create a very unconventional school within a school.


This book tells the story of a community of teachers, parents, and students who thoughtfully took charge of their very conventional circumstances and created a very unconventional school. With authority and liveliness, Nehring, a veteran teacher who led the development of the school, describes the many challenges faced and overcome in The Bethlehem Lab School from its inception as a proposal in 1988 to the graduation of its first senior class.

Working on the fault line between theory and practice, Nehring and his colleagues built a school on performance-based assessment in a state resurgent with standardized testing. Committed to small scale in a suburban community with a typically large high school and wide elective offering, the Lab School—which functions as a school within a school—offered a highly focused, integrated curriculum, culminating in a senior internship program and thesis project. With students and parents closely involved, the school developed a democratic culture attuned to many voices and a high degree of collaboration.

Throughout its development, the Lab School faced skepticism from colleagues and community members but continually proved them wrong as it raised private foundation money, won crucial faculty votes, attracted a diverse student population, succeeded with competitive college admissions for its graduates, and won strong support from students and parents

James Nehring is Principal Teacher of the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School and Regional Teacher Center in Devens, Massachusetts. Founding teacher of The Bethlehem Lab School in Delmar, New York, he has also written The School We Have, The Schools We Want: An American Teacher on the Front Line; and Why Do We Gotta Do This Stuff, Mr. Nehring: Notes from a Teacher's Day in School.


"I believe the topic is the most important and significant topic today—how to go about rethinking our high schools. Rather than get caught up in theoretical discussions of this or that 'modernism,' Nehring talks about real kids, real parents, real teachers who want to make a difference. This is an important work in and of itself, and will find a place on the bookshelves of those who both study and carry out school reform." — George Wood, author of Schools That Work: America's Most Innovative Public Education Programs

"Since the field has shifted from a concern over particular pedagogies, etc. to the question of 'the culture of the school' there's very little reading that describes this elusive shift. But also there are few books that help us build an internalized picture of what could be. Without that picture in our head it's hard to create change. Without stories we can't see how to get from here to there. If we haven't lived it—can't taste it—we're handicapped. An account like this is close to 'living it,' offers that 'taste' and hopefully arouses a hunger. It's wonderfully written; it was hard to put down. It's an unusual mixture of the practical (I kept making notes of things to do), the political, the intellectual, and the deeply personal." — Deborah Meier, author of The Power of Their Ideas