Former superintendent Leila Anderson experienced tremendous change during her 35 years (1958-1993) as a teacher and district administrator.
During the first seven years she taught in the district, Anderson helped plan one of the 28 schools that opened between 1950 and 1970. During her tenure as a central office curriculum and instruction leader from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s, Anderson helped the district become a state innovator and leader. As an elementary principal and 13-year superintendent, Anderson oversaw the closing of 11 schools due to declining enrollment.
“I am proud of the district for the focus on students' needs. We kept that focus whether enrollment was growing or declining,” Anderson said.
Despite budget cuts, “we always tried to develop and maintain programs and services and had a whole continuum of programs to serve all kids. We were always leaders. A lot of districts looked to us,” she added.
Anderson praised the district’s early gifted and remedial reading programs as the most innovative in the nation. She said the district was also an early adopter of student computers.
During summer break, teachers were hired to create a sequence of objectives in each subject area that stretched from kindergarten through grade 12. This project was unique because of the teacher involvement, which led to a strong curriculum, Anderson said.
Schools experimented with national trends like individualized learning, modular-flexible scheduling, more open areas and team teaching, Anderson recalled. These features at Oak Grove Junior High made national news in 1969. Anderson also lauded the district’s focus on higher thinking skills where students learned to organize, analyze and apply information as individuals and in small groups.
Anderson said she had strong support from staff and the community as the state’s first female superintendent of a large metro school system. Having “grown up” in the school system was a plus, and she made an effort to know every employee, not just the teaching staff.
“The hardest thing for me as superintendent was to cut budgets, close buildings and lay off long-time teachers. Everybody loves their own school. But we had to decide based on costs and conditions of facilities,” she said. Anderson also regretted that boundaries and organizational structures were constantly changing.
Today, Anderson enjoys travel and time with the families of her 10 siblings. But education is still a topic she enjoys, noting that strong public schools improve everything from student achievement to home prices.
And she remembers well her mantra as an educator: “I love kids. What can we do to make teaching better? What can we do to help kids more?”