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CHRIS LEONE ’90

When thinking about my experience at Washington Montessori School, it was impossible to predict that in less than two decades I would return to Litchfield County and become the youngest Superintendent of Schools in the State of Connecticut. Then again, with a Montessori education that started at age 3—anything was possible.

I remember a quote once relayed and attributed to Maria Montessori—”Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.”

Since I first started my elementary education, there were limits, but, if you wanted to learn or take on a challenge, then the multi-age classrooms always provided opportunity. It was not about working at a grade level, or on a workbook, but it was about experiences and reaching for new heights.

With a strong belief in the importance of education in my mind, I graduated from WMS in 1990, Suffield Academy in 1995 and Union College in 1999. Selected to Teach For America, I moved to Baltimore, Maryland, in 2000, and earned dual degrees in education and administration from the Johns Hopkins University in 2002.

After graduating, with my father in declining health, I moved back to Connecticut and accepted a job at The Whitby School in Greenwich, Connecticut. As the 26-year-old Head of the Upper School, I heard more of the same that I was too young to lead, to change education and to make a difference. Once again, drawing from my roots in a Montessori education, I worked to potential and belief and transformed a good school into a great upper school.

Three years later, as the Principal of Pathways to Technology Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, I again drew on the past and took a school struggling to stay open and helped transform it into a U.S. News and World Report Top 100 High School. In less than two years, I was in charge of overseeing 10 Hartford Host Magnet Schools and the City of Hartford role in the landmark desegregation case of Sheff v. O’Neill. By 2009, seven of the 10 schools had earned state, national, or federal recognition for excellence.

Now, as I enter the final phase of a first decade in education, there are memories. There are the success stories, the failures, the legacies and the moments you wish to recreate. However, when I think of my proudest moment, it was when Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School opened in August 2009 in Hartford.

Just 20 months earlier, I had the difficult task of closing Annie Fisher Elementary School and filing an operation plan with the State Department of Education to open a new public Montessori school. In just over 16 months, with the help of some great educators, the plan was approved and the school, a dream located next to a housing project in Hartford, became a reality. It seemed that my life in education had come full circle.

In January my journey took another turn with new opportunities to challenge the future of education. Despite large gains in a short time, many still doubt and believe that changing public education is possible. Many still claim that I am too young to be a district leader. However, with the goal of a better future for all students I continue to ignore the naysayers and focus on meeting with other education leaders and creating a true reform movement.

When I think about the future of education and what the next 20 years might hold, it comes back to another important quote from Maria Montessori:

“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future.”