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VOL. 129 | NO. 32 | Monday, February 17, 2014

I Choose Memphis: Bradley James Leon

Special to The Daily News

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“I Choose Memphis” spotlights Memphians who are passionate about calling this community home. New Memphis Institute provides the profiles.


Name: Bradley James Leon

Job Title and Company: Chief of Strategy and Innovation, Shelby County Schools

Length of time living in Memphis: April 2006 to present

Life history: I was born and raised in Southern California and attended Occidental College (the cradle of the presidency – our current president attended for his first two years). After graduation, I was a bartender in Los Angeles for two years before moving to New Orleans to become an eighth-grade language arts and social studies teacher in New Orleans. I moved to Memphis in 2006 to become the executive director of Teach For America and where I met my beautiful wife, Courtney. Courtney and I have a 2-year-old son, Charles, and the best dog in the world, Roosevelt.

What brought you to Memphis? I moved to Memphis in 2006 to launch Teach For America. Prior to arriving in Memphis, I had never been to the city, though my parents had moved to Tennessee when I was 15 years old. Because we did not have office space at the time, the Hyde Family Foundations let me work out of their office and, in my first weeks, they interviewed my wife, Courtney (not my wife initially), for a job at the foundation. I did not know her yet but we struck up a friendship and now Memphis is home.

What current initiative excites you the most? I am thrilled by two complementary initiatives: Shelby County Schools Leadership Effectiveness Initiative (LEI) and the “Teacher Town USA” effort led by Sara Solar. What excites me the most about these initiatives is that student learning is 100 percent determined by the leadership of our educators. Teaching is the most significant leadership role in our entire community, and I love that we have two major initiatives that are reinforcing that fact.

Favorite local restaurant? Iris. … Hands-down, the best in my opinion, but, having lived in New Orleans for two years, I may be a bit biased.

Favorite outdoor activity? The greenline leading to Shelby Farms provides me an opportunity to run outside with my dog, Roosevelt. I run marathons, and this is a tremendous resource. When I need to clear my mind or when I am on an especially tough run, it is great to have such a beautiful path to run.

What can be done to move Memphis forward? I think it starts with a laser-like focus on leadership: recruiting, training, supporting and retaining great people from all sectors. From there, we need to pursue policies that create the conditions for great leaders to thrive. In the education sector, Memphis has done more than most cities across the nation to ensure that we are prioritizing the very strongest leadership in education, and that, in my opinion, is why our state is now leading the nation in progress towards national standards.

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