Celebrating the Life of Lilo J. Leeds (1928-2016)
By Scott Noon
Executive Director for Strategic Business Development at ISA.
The Institute for Student Achievement (ISA) joins the family and friends of Lilo J. Leeds in remembering and celebrating her extraordinary life and accomplishments, particularly her unrelenting fight for social justice and excellent and equitable education for all children.
It was out of a deep commitment to fairness and a belief that all children should attend excellent schools that she and her late husband Gerry co-founded ISA in 1990. ISA began its work as an after-school program at Roosevelt High School in Roosevelt, Long Island, a poor community with chronically low-performing schools surrounded by affluent communities with high-performing schools. The organization evolved as a school redesign and reform partner engaging in work grounded in educational research and practitioner expertise. After more than two decades of partnering with high schools across the nation, ISA has become a leading high school redesign organization with a successful track record of having served over 70,000 students. Specifically, studies show that our largely African American and Latino student population has a four-year cohort graduation rate of nearly 80 percent. This dramatically exceeds the national high school graduation rate for African American students of 60 percent and Latino students of 58 percent. Beyond high school, 90 percent of our students persist to the third semester in college, as compared to the national rate for all students of 77 percent and the national average for African American and Latino students of 55 percent. In addition, the evaluation studies show that African American males in ISA schools outperform matched comparison students on key high school outcome measures, including attendance and graduation.
Lilo’s belief that “one shouldn’t let injustice go on” led to the founding of successful organizations and initiatives impacting education policy and practice including the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Additionally, she and Gerry provided advocacy and financial support for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) which was launched in 1993 to ensure that all schools in the state of New York had the financial strength to offer students a quality education. With their support, CFE led a major court victory, establishing that the state must increase support for New York City schools. She was the driving force behind numerous other initiatives advocating for students of color, students from low-income families, and other traditionally under-served children.
Lilo was a remarkable woman whose deep love, enthusiasm and drive affected all around her. Her courage and devotion to challenging injustice and creating opportunities for justice to prevail will continue to inspire our work for years to come.