02/07/2013 09:53 am ET Updated Apr 09, 2013

A Beacon of Excellence in Urban Education on the West Side of Chicago

When it comes to models of excellence in the area of urban education; Frazier International Magnet School (FIMS) on Chicago's West Side stands at the forefront. The school, which serves grades K-8, opened in September of 2007 after an intense recruiting effort in West Side neighborhoods for students. In 2010, FIMS was the only school in the state of Illinois to achieve the 90 percent minority, 90 percent poverty, 90 percent meeting or exceeding on the state assessment distinction. The school repeated this feat for an unprecedented three years.

The demographic breakdown of the school can be attributed to the fact that entry into the school is not granted via test scores but through a lottery. The school's founding principal, Colette Unger-Teasley, stated that they receive students "from the 9th percentile to the 90th percentile." Unger-Teasley said that she was motivated to start the school because she wanted to give back to the North Lawndale neighborhood where she was raised. Unger-Teasley gladly accepted the offer to becoming the founding principal. The initial proposal for the school was started by a department within the Chicago Public School District that recognized Unger-Teasley's International Baccalaureate program experience and North Lawndale roots.

She attributed the school's success to a "hands on approach" that included:

  • teacher book studies on best practice,
  • placing two teachers in every classroom to lower the teacher ratio
  • before-school tutoring
  • after-school tutoring
  • weekly review of student data to determine how to drive the instruction
  • Unger-Teasley's participation in all grade-level meetings
  • Unger-Teasley commented on every child's progress report and report card
  • ongoing professional development on topics from how to improve the rigor to differentiating instruction to address the diverse learners in the classroom

A Saturday school was implemented from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. eight weeks prior to the state exam with a focus on reading, math, and science in addition to before- and after-school tutorial programs throughout the school year. On Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 Unger- Teasley was honored as the founding principal by a dedication ceremony. The Local School Council, staff and teachers dedicated the school library after her. It will now be called the Colette Unger- Teasley Library. The stellar and sustained achievement of FIMS in an area ravaged by poverty and gun violence serves as a beacon of excellence and a model for similarly situated schools to emulate.