“New charter school under construction in Marana”.
Written by: Brad Allis of Marana News.
Next fall there will be another school option in the Marana area. The Leman Academy of Excellence is scheduled.
The Leman Academy is named for Kevin Leman, a renowned psychologist and author. He has become a radio and television personality, educator, speaker, and author of over 45 books on parenting, marriage, and family living.
“I’d like a school that takes some of the principles that I have written about and talked about for years and implement them in a way that makes sense,” said Leman.
The idea is to launch a tuition-free school and learning environment based on a Classical Education platform.
“There is not another tuition free classical charter school in Southern Arizona,” said Dennis O’Reilly, the Leman Academy Head of Schools.
Classical Education is based on the three stages of learning: grammar, logic and rhetoric.
Classical Education is rooted in integrating the various subjects thematically, providing a tie between subjects.
“All subjects are interwoven with one another,” O’Reilly explained. “It is based on a history timeline and then science, literature, art and music all come under it.”
O’Reilly explained that if the students were studying World War II, then in science they might be learning about the discovery of penicillin, which occurred around the same time. Their literature might be reading the Diary of Anne Frank and music studies would focus on the music of that era, jazz and big band, for example.
“I think it is amazing at what kids learn,” explained Leman. “Everything is tied together. So if children are learning about the animal world, creatures of the sea, all of their art projects will be about water, creatures of the sea.”
The idea is to keep the students engaged and to bolster their natural curiosity.
“School ought to be fun,” said Leman. “I think, quite frankly, I think we beat the curiosity out of kids by about the third or fourth grade. We are not going to be filling in the blanks with the right word and memorizing, we are going to teach kids to critically think and use words.”
The school will also feature accelerated math, an inventive English and grammar curriculum and a classroom management style that is based on birth order. O’Reilly has used this method in his own classrooms, where he tries to create a mix of students based on birth order at each table. He specifically pairs first-born students with “babies.”
“We are going to place kids in the classroom next to each other based on birth order,” said O’Reilly. “First-borns tend to be achievers and will bring the babies along with them.”
The idea stems from one of Leman’s books, The Birth Order Book. Leman’s theory is that first-born children tend to be high achievers and perfectionists.
“I think just using some basic knowledge of what we know about the differences in kids can pay off handsomely in a classroom,” added Leman, who pointed out that 21 of the first 23 astronauts in space were first-borns and the other two were only children.
They first began pursuing the idea in January 2014 and O’Reilly was the educator brought on board to work with the state to get the charter. They had to give the state an education plan, an operations plan and budget plan.
“It is quite a rigorous process,” O’Reilly explained. “I feel like I got my doctorate doing this. I spent a solid 9-10 months working on this.”
The charter was approved by the state in early December and signed in late February. Construction begins on the school this month, which will be located at 7800 N. Schisler Drive, on Silverbell just south of Cortaro, next to the Wheeler Taft Abbett Library.
“It is great, we have the library there, we have the park,” said O’Reilly. “Marana has been awesome, everything we’ve brought to them, they have been receptive. Having a park right next door, having a library right next door that fits us. We use the library a lot in the classic model.”
The proximity to the park and the library were not the only reason the school chose Marana.
“It is a great location, we scoped it out, we researched it,” explained O’Reilly. “We looked all over, eastside, central and northwest and we felt like the best place to build our campus is on the northwest side, knowing that Marana, and Oro Valley, but that Marana is ready to explode in the next 5-6 years population-wise and that they really need more good schools in the area.”
The school will have between 550-600 students and serve as a K-6 the first year and expand to K-8 the next. They already have about 475 students pre-enrolled and will have open enrollment in early March.
Right now the focus is on getting the school built and the staff hired, but there is a long-term vision of expanding throughout the state, and later across the country.
“My focus is on this school, to get it up and running and start well,” said O’Reilly. “The group of us is looking to do a few more in Arizona and maybe go national. This is the first one, it is in his backyard, Dr. Leman, and get it started. It is the model, then go from there and expand it out.”