The Broad Acres Elementary School community in Silver Spring wants to change the school’s name to honor a former principal who helped push the school to dramatic improvement.
JoAnn “Jody” Leleck was principal from 1999 to 2004 and made an impact that is still in the hearts of the staff and parents who knew her. She died in 2012 at age 62 after fighting colon cancer for about six years.
The school community, led by a group of teachers, has gathered pages of signatures — including those from parents, teachers and former students — in a petition to Montgomery County Public Schools to show interest in the name change.
Leleck’s name also had been nominated earlier this year for the school system’s new Clarksburg elementary school. Her name drew support from a long list of colleagues, family and friends, as well as her doctors from MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
Letters show a range of people touched by her guidance, encouragement and care.
When her name was not chosen, the focus turned to renaming the school where Leleck’s work helped produce significant changes in student performance and the school environment. People who knew her remembered her as a hard-working, caring leader.
Several county school board members on June 30 expressed their admiration for Leleck. Christopher S. Barclay said he was glad to see the petition and hoped to see the name change.
Kim Burnim, who was hired by Leleck to her former teaching position at Broad Acres Elementary, is now a consultant teacher in a systemwide role. She said Leleck led staff into “uncharted territory” through changes at the troubled school that was performing so poorly, it was at risk of a state takeover.
The school also faced the highest percentage of low-income students in the county — about 90 percent of its children.
Leleck helped lead efforts that included requiring teachers to commit to three years at the school and negotiating with unions to let teachers and staff work extra days.
“It was made clear [by Leleck] that every staff member would know the needs of every child and would set out to find a way to help that child succeed,” a 2005 school system case report on Broad Acres said.
The school’s turnaround in student performance was featured in a Harvard University case study used for class discussion.
The school saw major changes within a few years after Leleck became principal. In one example, about 5.3 percent of third-grade students were “excellent or satisfactory” in math in 1999-2000. Students’ math performance jumped to about 69.4 percent “at proficiency and advanced” in 2004-05, according to state test data in the 2005 school system report.
Burnim said Leleck “set the example” of hard work and was always ready to solve problems.
“She expected a lot of them, but she gave a lot,” Burnim said of Leleck’s relationship with teachers.
Leleck was interested in each of the hundreds of Broad Acres students, she said.
“When they say she knew every kid’s name, she did,” said Leleck’s husband Paul.
Paul Leleck said his wife took on her first principal role at Broad Acres knowing she was stepping into a challenge.
“She was hell-bent on educating the kids, no matter what their color, age, background,” he said. “They all could be educated — she thoroughly believed that.”
Leleck was dubbed “7-Eleven” — a nickname reflecting her long hours at the school.
Paul said it wasn’t unusual on a Sunday night for her to be working at the school along with teachers.
Leleck moved from Broad Acres to take on several systemwide administration positions. The last one was chief academic officer for the district.
Even as she went through chemotherapy and surgeries, she continued doing the work she loved for the school system, Paul said.
“She was an endless trouper to live,” he said.
Before her time at Broad Acres, Leleck held English for Speakers of Other Languages teacher positions at Burning Tree and Highland elementary schools and was assistant principal at Kemp Mill Elementary School.