Renowned Chicago teacher and education activist Marva Collins has died at the age of 78.
Collins was a fierce educator and advocate for children who devised what came to be known as “Collins Method” of teaching that focused on phonics, math, reading, English and the classics.
Unhappy with the way the schools she taught in were run, Collins used her personal earnings to start Westside Preparatory School in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood in 1975. Using her “Collins Method” of teaching, she was able to break through to kids written off as unteachable. Parents around the city (and out of districting zones) attempted to get their children into Collins’ school. Even the city’s police superintendent at the time, Richard Brzeczek, maneuvered to get his 12-year-old son in the doors.
Throughout her time running Westside Preparatory, which closed in 2008 after operating for more than 30 years, Collins always believed labeling children unable to learn was more of a reflection on the teacher than the child.
“I have discovered few learning disabled students in my three decades of teaching,” Collins once said. “I have, however, discovered many, many victims of teaching inabilities.”
In 1996, Chicago Public Schools brought her on board to supervise and help re-establish three schools that had been placed on probation.In 2004 she was the recipient of a National Humanities Medal for her efforts in school reform. She was also the author of seven well received books on education, including 2002’s Redeeming Education.
Collins was immortalized when she was portrayed by Cicely Tyson in the 1981 television movie about her life, “The Marva Collins Story.”