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Leonard's legacy as educator lives on

Words were an important part of Teresa Leonard’s life, not because they defined who she was, but because they helped her teach future generations the things they needed to define them.
Leonard won multiple awards during her time as an educator for 44 years, which included 20 years as principal at Boones Creek Elementary, but only one award still hangs on the wall of her house. That award constantly reminds her husband, Paul Leonard, of the influence that his late wife had.
“I think about what kind of accomplishments that she had over the years,” Paul Leonard said of the thoughts that pop into his head when he sees the plaque. “Her and her surrounding teachers and students, the accomplishments that they all had.”
The “Made a Difference Award” was was the final award presented to Teresa, on June 5, 2014, the same month that she stepped away from education after her more than four decades of service.
It would be just nine months later that Teresa Leonard found out that she had stage four cancer and she would lose her battle on Dec. 23, 2015.
“She fought a hard battle, she really fought hard,” said Paul Leonard about his late wife.
During Teresa Leonard’s 20 years at Boones Creek, the school was recognized by the Education Consumer’s Foundation as one of the most effective schools in Tennessee on seven different occasions. That was one of the many reasons that she was awarded with the highest honor by the Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes, when he presented her with the “Made a Difference Award,” which, he noted, he has only presented a handful of times during his administration.
“That is a pretty rare award that we have given over the years, and it’s generally given to organizations or individuals that have truly gone above the areas of support or excellence in Washington County schools,” he said. “My acknowledgement of Teresa’s value as an educator for us, that was some small way to show our appreciation and recognize it to the entire community.”
According to Dykes, she was an asset unmatched in her field.
“She was a member of our family for many years and she was one of my valued lieutenants,” Dykes said. “Her leadership at Boones Creek Elementary had taken that school to a level that none of our other schools had reached.”
But it wasn’t the awards that gave Teresa her fulfillment, according to her husband.
“She enjoyed working with the kids and seeing them advance, seeing them set goals and gain achievements,” Paul Leonard said. “It was her achievement to see the kids achieve, to see them progress over the years and just working with the kids, they always came first to her.”
Dr. Susan Kiernan was one of her first students in Washington County when Teresa Leonard taught an art class at Daniel Boone in 1972. Kiernan went on to work with Teresa as a colleague, when the two were principals at different schools during the same period. She also worked with her when Kiernan assumed the role of assistant director of Washington County schools in 2001.
“Teresa was very interested and got very close to all her children,” Kiernan said. “She would get to know the children, their families and their situations so that she could better provide whatever they needed.”
And no matter the moment, the topic of kids always came up when they were together.
“We would go on shopping trips and we would talk about our children at the schools, because we loved it,” Kiernan said. “We would talk about the children and their successes and we would seek advice from one another about what we could do to help certain families. Teresa was always trying to help someone.
“She dedicated her life to helping students, colleagues and families and when she became an administrator, the impact that she had on teachers (in) helping them grow and get what they needed for their students. Those things that happened at Boones Creek (elementary) —  that happened for years — that doesn’t happen without her. That is from the dedication and a great work ethic, which she exhibited throughout her career.”
Teresa Leonard grew up in West Virginia and graduated from Marshall University with a teaching degree. She taught for two years in Beckley, West Virginia, before moving to Tennessee and being hired by the Washington County Department of Education.
Later, she went on to earn her master’s degree in supervision and administration from East Tennessee State University, which helped further her career in Washington County.
That is when the opportunity came up to be the assistant principal at Boone Creek Elementary, which she served as for five years, before taking over as principal in 1990.
It was during that time that current Washington County school board member David Hammond met Leonard. As a parent of a student at Boones Creek Elementary, Hammond remembered seeing Teresa Leonard being very active anytime that he was at the school. He would see her welcome the kids to school and wish them well before they went home.
But Teresa Leonard also encouraged Hammond, and her encouragement helped him decide to become the president of the Parent Teachers Association at the school. There, he got to know Teresa Leonard even better, and saw first-hand her relationship with the kids.
“She was the type of educator that was called, that didn’t just go and get the job,” Hammond said. “Her thing was the kids, that is why she stayed as long as she did. That is why the school was getting recognized all the time for some type of achievement.”
During Hammond’s latest run for school board, he said that Teresa was right there cheering him on, despite being in the middle of her battle with cancer. That was one reason that Hammond got so emotional when the school board took time to recognize her during their Jan. 7 meeting.
It was easy to see just how much that Leonard meant to the education sector of the county, as each school board member took a minute to gather his or her thoughts before sharing praises for Leonard.
“It was certainly devastating to our educational family and it was extremely emotional for us, especially some of the board members that knew her for 30 years or longer,” Dykes said. “She was certainly an extremely valuable asset to the world of education and she is going to be missed terribly.”
Another person that saw Teresa Leonard’s influence on Boones Creek Elementary was her assistant principal for four years, Kelly Harrell. She was given the task of taking over for Leonard after she retired. There were plenty of things that stuck out to Harrell about her former colleague, but the one that first came to her mind was the woman’s dedication.
“She was there all the time, she made sure everything ran perfectly and I learned so much from her about how to run a school,” she said. “She was very involved with parents, she loved the kids and she knew every kid in that building.”
And the kids loved and adored her too, according to Paul Leonard. He mentioned that not a day goes by that he doesn’t hear from one of the people that his wife influenced during her time as an educator.
“It’s daily, under different circumstances,” he said. “There were several of her students at her funeral. She touched lives daily.”