Named for U.S. Rep. George Thomas “Mickey” Leland of Texas who was killed in an airplane crash while aiding refugees in Ethiopia, Leland is a neighborhood school located in central Chicago that serves students in Head Start through third grade. The pre-kindergarten program is open to applicants throughout the city. In 2008-09, the school enrolled nearly 100 percent African-American students and at least 93 percent were low-income. On the 2008-09 state standardized assessment, Leland students significantly outscored their peers districtwide and statewide. In 2004, it was named a National Blue Ribbon School. Most recently, Chicago magazine discussed Leland in a story announcing the publication’s upcoming rankings of Chicago’s best schools.
Leland’s disciplines include language arts, mathematics, social studies, physical and health education, fine arts, Spanish, writing instruction and computer science. Teachers are allotted shared planning time, during which they are encouraged to develop lessons, projects and units well in advance. As far as collaboration between the administration and faculty is concerned, a 2004 report by the National Center for Educational Accountability found that instead of unilaterally choosing textbooks, the principal deferred to a schoolwide textbook committee that picked the school materials and then in turn opened up its considerations to public comment. Additionally, the district equips Leland with a thorough after-school program. In terms of human resources, the school has an extensive education support staff as well as a part-time staff comprising a counselor, nurse, social worker, speech therapist and psychologist.
Leland mainly focuses on reading and math. The first 40 minutes of every day are devoted entirely to reading. During this time, students are divided into small groups, where instruction is closely matched with each student’s ability. School principal Loretta Brown-Lawrence monitors student achievement. She frequently visits classrooms to quiz students in math. Likewise, kindergarten, first- and second-graders visit with her several times a year so she can personally assess their reading progress. Parents of Leland third-graders are invited to an annual Early Bird Breakfast, where they read with their students.
Evaluation of student progress and analysis of student assessments are key priorities at Leland. In addition to testing required by the state and district, Leland uses reading rubrics, book reports, five-week assessments and readiness checklists to measure student achievement. Analyzing student results often leads to teachers improving instruction. For instance, when teachers at the school years ago noticed a general trend of students’ lacking mastery in vocabulary, they implemented a Word of the Day initiative and plastered the halls with vocabulary words. Teachers’ response to students’ academic, social and emotional needs in addition to collaboration between administrators and faculty go a long way toward making Leland a model school.
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