Leland is a small Pre-K-3rd grade school in the Austin neighborhood. It was featured as part of Chicago Magazine’s Best Elementary Schools of 2010:
At Chicago’s Leland Elementary School, every kindergarten, first-grade, and second-grade student gets sent to the principal at least four times a year.
But children aren’t sent there because they misbehaved. Instead, the school’s principal, Loretta Brown-Lawrence, meets with each of those students to check his or her mastery of a set list of reading words. She also visits each classroom several times a year to quiz students in math.
Situated in the city’s Austin neighborhood, Leland has about 200 students in pre-kindergarten through third grade—and 93 percent of them come from low-income families. Yet in the 2008–09 school year, 84 percent of Leland’s third-grade students met or exceeded state standards on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT)—surpassing not only the 67.5 percent average for the city’s public schools but also the statewide meets-exceeds average of 79.8 percent. Combined with relatively low class sizes, those test scores earned Leland a spot on Chicago’s list of the city’s high-achieving public schools, part of our extensive look at the metro area’s public elementary schools. (Leland’s numbers, like all the statistics in the school charts, come from the 2008–09 school year, the most recent data available at presstime.)
At a time when the state’s public schools are confronting a worsening financial crisis (see “Illinois’s Budget Crisis Leaves Schools Scrambling”), figuring out how certain schools succeed at educating their students has become crucially important. At Leland, as at other good schools, the drive to succeed comes from the top down. “[Children] only get one shot at getting started the right way,” says Brown-Lawrence, a former high-school math teacher. Her personal involvement with her pupils “lets everyone know how important we think reading and math are for their [future] learning. The parents know it, the teachers know it, and our students know it.”