Meet Peck Elementary, One of the Best Chicago Public Schools

With a 20.6 student-to-teacher ratio and innovative curriculum, Peck Elementary promises a tight-knit community for learning of all kinds. What’s more, although GreatSchools awards Peck only 6/10, its students from all grades score well above average on standardized tests when normalized for parent income.

But raw test data has its limits. What does it feel like to be part of the Peck community? How do teachers here collaborate with each other and with their parent base? What makes Peck’s location unique?

To learn the answers to these questions (and many more), we sat down with Peck’s principal, Mr. Okab Hassan. He gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the community, curriculum, and character of this one-of-a-kind school.

Photo Courtesy: Pedro Lastra / Unsplash

(Not from Chicago? Don’t worry— we have content for you, too. Check out our lists of Top 5 schools in New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles, Nashville, and more on our blog!)

Peck’s Address: 3826 W 58th St Chicago, IL 60629

Peck’s Website: www.peckelementary.org/

Peck Elementary’s Neighborhood

Let’s start with location, one of the most important factors for families in the school and home search.

Photo Courtesy: Google Maps

Less than two miles east of the Chicago Midway International Airport, Peck Elementary serves the West Lawn and West Elsdon neighborhoods. You’ll find the beautiful greenspace of Senka Park just a few blocks away from the school building. Mouth-watering community staples like the Bombon Cake Gallery, Los Mangos, Zaca Tacos, and Big Tony’s Pizza II all stand within walking distance.

The median list price for homes in Peck’s zip code (60629) is $214,000 or $175 per square foot. If you’re looking for houses near Peck, don’t miss this 3-bed, 2-bath house currently listed at $79,999.

(To find out if a home falls within Peck’s boundaries, check out this School Locator Tool from Chicago Public Schools.)

Zip code 60629 limits. Photo Courtesy: Google Maps

Peck’s History and Character

Peck Elementary’s principal, Mr. Okab Hassan, has been working in education for over 37 years. He has served as the key point person and director of the district in the office of multilingual and multicultural education and school administration. As of 2020, he has served as the principal of Peck Elementary School for 20 years!

Peck itself has experienced some structural changes over the past few years. In 2017, due to Peck Elementary’s severe overcrowding, the district created a new school for 5th through 8th graders in the area. Now Peck Elementary serves pre-K through 4th grade students, although the community has expressed hope that the school can one day transition back to a pre-K through 8th model.

Photo Courtesy: Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

Curriculum:

According to Hassan, the majority of Peck’s student body comes from low-income families, and many kids speak English as their second language. For this reason, all of Peck’s teachers are endorsed and trained to operate in ESL or bilingual settings.

What’s more, Peck’s innovative curriculum stands out across the board. Take their Early Childhood Program, for example, which has been recognized nationally for excellence. Or consider Peck’s early reading program, which encourages teachers to think outside the box when it comes to literacy. They are also the very first public elementary school to become STEM certified in the nation and have 3 makerspaces where students’ are able to innovate and bring their ideas to life.

“I want them to make sure that they teach the children how to think about what they are learning,” Hassan said. “That means practical experience.”

To that end, Peck Elementary became the first elementary school in the nation to teach computer science, Hassan said.

Photo Courtesy: CDC on Unsplash

And Peck’s curriculum also encourages what Hassan calls “positive thinking.” In other words, it constantly challenges students to grow in the passions that most inspire them.

Still, curriculum doesn’t mean anything without dedicated teachers and staff behind it. And this is another area where Peck Elementary really shines.

Peck’s Staff:

Like Hassan (who has worked in education for almost 40 years), many Peck teachers are veteran educators. Hassan describes his staff as data-driven, highly communicative, and willing to do whatever it takes to help their students.

“I recruit teachers who are willing to go the extra mile to do better,” Hassan said.

Peck Elementary also stands out for the creative freedom it affords its staff when it comes to curriculum. All teachers follow general guidelines given by the school board and the state, but individual classrooms are characterized by teacher-driven curriculum. This means teachers develop their own units and integrate lesson plans to differentiate and fit the particular needs of the students in their classroom.

This curricular approach doesn’t leave teachers without support.  Teachers from each grade level meet regularly to share overall strategy and lesson plans. For his part, Hassan assists and monitors the curriculum development process, encouraging innovation and providing extra support when needed.

Photo Courtesy: Adam Winger on Unsplash

Internal and external coaches provide extra training for newer teachers. The school also pairs new teachers with experts for added mentorship opportunities. These mentors visit their mentee’s classroom during preparation time and observe their teaching, in order to give the most helpful feedback possible.

And at the end of the day, Peck Elementary’s staff prioritizes real teaching. As Hassan explains, this means that teachers don’t teach towards a test. Instead, their goal for all students is true mastery of the material.

When learning objectives are met, Hassan said, students will perform well on tests as a natural result.   

Community and Parent Engagement

This growing-together mindset shines through Peck’s interactions with its parent base as well. Hassan highly values parent feedback and reaches out to the parent community frequently. At Peck, parents can get involved through a bilingual advisory parent committee and an early childhood parent committee, among others.

Plus, extracurriculars like Peck’s after school program, computer club, and science club ensure that each student finds something that interests them. (You can learn about all of these and more on Peck’s website…)

Photo Courtesy: CDC on Unsplash

According to Hassan, the school has become a knowledge resource in the larger community as well. A counselor, social worker, and nurse are all available to help Peck families. A parent involvement program teaches parents how to foster reading skills and computer literacy in young children. Peck’s building even includes a community center.

Peck Elementary has a good relationship with the local police officers, and the school is truly safe because the surrounding community values and protects it, Hassan said.

So, what about those test scores?

Test scores should never be the only factor you consider when looking for schools, but it can offer helpful perspective on student achievement within the school setting. So what does Peck’s score profile look like? And how did the school achieve these results?

At SchoolSparrow, we set test score expectations based on the largest contributing factor to standardized test scores: parent income. Chicago schools with parent income profiles similar to Peck’s tend to score around 25 points. This means 25% of their students meet or exceed state standards on the Reading/Language Arts section of the National Assessment of Educational Progress standardized test.

Peck students exceed this expectation by an average of 10.1 points! In fact, 3rd graders score at A- level, according to SchoolSparrow metrics, since they exceed expectations by almost 100%.

Photo Courtesy: Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

According to Hassan, these incredible results come from a combination of factors at Peck.

The first is teacher recruitment. Hassan searches for teachers who are really willing to go the extra mile to help their students, and their excellent pedagogy has made Peck Elementary an example for surrounding schools. Teachers at Peck do far more than simply teach; they contribute creativity and perspective to that keeps the school on the cutting edge of educational innovation.

In fact, Hassan said that civic leaders have flown to Chicago just to see Peck programs in action!

The second factor has to do with the school’s long-term leadership and vision. As Peck’s principal, Hassan works closely with school staff to accomplish their mission. The teachers bring their ideas together—for each grade level and throughout the whole school—in order to further the school’s overall vision. Hassan, for his part, keep track of the personnel and budget demands, in order to help these plans run as efficiently as possible.

In Conclusion…

As we talked with Principal Hassan and heard stories about the history and culture of Peck, we’ve seen hundreds of other reasons why this school is one of the best elementary schools in Chicago.

Test scores are only one indicator of this academy’s educational excellence. Peck’s unique location, carefully chosen curriculum, motivated staff, and warm community all set this school apart. We hope you consider it as an option for your family!

Want to learn more? Check out Peck for yourself at the Peck Elementary website and learn the details of their stand-out test scores here.

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