KATY MAGAZINE l APRIL 2019
By Addie Davis
This fall, Katy's 42nd elementary school will bear the name of a woman who dedicated more than two decades of her career to the district. Olga Leonard impacted the Katy community as an educator and by creating important bilingual programs.
On Monday, February 25, 2019 the Board of Trustees approved naming the district's newest elementary school after Olga Leonard. The school, currently under construction, is located in the northwest quadrant of the district, in the Morton Creek Ranch subdivision.
Leonard is known for her accomplishments as an elementary, junior high, and high school teacher, instructional specialist and elementary campus administrator in Katy ISD.
“I knew I wanted to be a teacher from a very young age,” says Leonard.
Leonard grew up in Spring Branch ISD. She remembers playing school with her friends, and her sister even recalls her lining up her dolls and teaching them the ABCs. After Leonard graduated from Southwest Texas State University, with a degree in bilingual education, she knew she wanted to return to her old neighborhood to teach.
Leonard taught in Spring Branch for four years before deciding to apply for employment in Katy ISD, where she already lived with her husband and son.
“We loved our Katy community and knew it was where we wanted to raise our family,” says Leonard.
During her 26 years as a full-time employee for Katy ISD, Leonard filled many important positions. She was an instructional specialist for languages other than English, became an assistant principal at Schmalz Elementary in 2001, and later served as principal at Memorial Parkway Elementary from 2004-2010. Leornard also helped parents and students in the Bilingual Program, Deaf Education and Special Education programs.
Paving the Way to Multiculturalism
In 1987, Leonard began collaborating with the district as a curriculum writer and teacher trainer, while providing bilingual instruction to students at Sundown Elementary.
“Growing up, English was my first language, but my grandparents spoke mostly Spanish,” says Leonard.
She valued her second language and was excited to instill the pride of knowing more than one language to non-English speakers.
“As an elementary ESL teacher, the rewards were great,” says Leonard, “I loved seeing students master grade level concepts while still mastering the English language.”
After earning her teaching certification for secondary Spanish, Leonard went on to teach Spanish at the middle school and high school levels. She served as an instructional specialist for Bilingual Education, Languages Other than English (LOTE) and English as a Second Language (ESL). By paving the way to multiculturalism in Katy, Leonard was able to take bilingualism to a new level. She implemented dual language programs to serve both speakers of other languages and native English speaking students.
Dedication Beyond the Classroom
Leonard’s dedication to her students extended beyond the classroom. When Schmalz Elementary first opened, Leonard was so excited to be the new assistant principal that she painted sharks (the school mascot) on her jacket to show her school pride. Karen Ladner, the principal of Schmalz Elementary at the time, loved the design so much that she asked Leonard to paint sharks at the school's entrance.
Leonard got to work that evening and painted through the night. She stood on a lift, while Ladner, Ladner’s secretary and another teacher stayed with her and helped her from the ground below.
“The rest is history,” says Leonard.
Leonard also painted murals for Memorial Parkway Elementary.
An Inspiration to Others
Leonard's dedication and passion for education inspired Maria Llopiz and Mary Merten to submit her name for consideration during the naming process for Katy ISD Elementary #42.
“For a couple of years, we had contemplated the possibility of writing the nomination, so we could have an Olga Leonard Elementary School in Katy,” says Llopiz.
When Katy ISD announced that they were accepting nominations, the two women knew it was time. However, they only had two weeks to prepare the application.
Together, they created a Facebook group page where former students, colleagues, and friends could help with the nomination. People shared memories and personal stories of how Leonard inspired them. After two weeks, Llopiz and Merten had assembled a 52-page recommendation package that illustrated the impact Leonard had on the community.
“Mrs. Leonard’s contributions to Katy ISD have impacted the lives of many forever,” says Llopiz.
The Big News
“I was overwhelmed when I was first approached about (the school naming),” says Leonard, “I was speechless.”
Leonard had worked alongside some of the most recent Katy ISD namesakes and has high respect and admiration for them.
“I couldn’t believe I was being considered for the same honor,” says Leonard.
Shortly after the potential naming was announced, more educators, students, and parents took to social media to show their support of Leonard's nomination.
“I had her as an elementary teacher and a Spanish teacher in high school. She is amazing,” says former student Erin Rocheleau. “I model my teaching after a lot of the things I remember her doing. She always made you feel special.” Rocheleau now teaches second grade.
On Monday, February 26, the Board of Trustees officially announced that Elementary #42 would be named Olga Leonard Elementary School.
“I am so honored to be the newest namesake in Katy ISD,” says Leonard, “and will do whatever I can to play an active part in the success of Olga Leonard Elementary.”
Legacy on Education
Olga Leonard Elementary will open for the 2019-2020 school year. Stephanie Vaughn will be the principal, and Leonard says she is looking forward to collaborating with Vaughn to create a welcoming learning environment where all students can be successful in all that they do.
“I’d like to leave a legacy of a love for learning, kindness to all, and a sincere love for kids and education,” says Leonard.