Meet Jane Leach, the next leader of FutureReady Columbus

Chris Gaitten
Jane Leach

After a yearlong search, FutureReady Columbus has finally found its leader for the future. On March 22, Mayor Andy Ginther’s office announced that Jane Leach would become the executive director for the public-private partnership that has been leaderless since the March 2017 departure of inaugural president Lillian Lowery.

Leach, who starts work Monday, April 2, takes over the organization at a pivotal time in its development. The much ballyhooed FutureReady stemmed from former Mayor Mike Coleman’s Columbus Education Commission in an attempt to find ways to revamp the struggling Columbus City Schools on the heels of a data-scrubbing scandal and a failed school levy. Lowery and the organization had the support of powerful civic leaders, but her work with FutureReady was short-lived. She took a job with a think tank in Washington, D.C., just 18 months after being picked to lead the local schools initiative.

Leach comes from a wide-ranging educational background, most recently working as an administrator for Hilliard City Schools after serving as principal of Hilliard’s Beacon Elementary for five years. She also chaired Ginther’s Hilltop Early Childhood Partnership for the last year and was once the principal at Highlands Elementary on the Hilltop. She says that experience helped her realize the benefits of preschool for incoming kindergartners. In 2007, she founded Hilltop Preschool to address the problem.

Her work in early childhood education was a selling point for her hiring at FutureReady. Previously, the group worked across the spectrum in education, from birth to 24 years old, or “cradle to career” as the group’s website explains. Now, she says, the board has decided to narrow its focus to the crucial years through age 5.

“In Jane Leach we have found an educator experienced in public school systems with a deep knowledge of early childhood education, the primary focus of FutureReady Columbus,” said FutureReady board co-chair George Barrett, also the chairman of the board at Cardinal Health, in the press release.

Leach says countless studies have shown that when children attend high-quality early childhood programs, they’re less likely to be placed in special education, less likely to be retained in a grade level and more likely to graduate high school. “As we’ve learned through research into early learning and brain development,” she says, “we have discovered that this is the power player in making the world a better place.”

Leach’s goal is to use FutureReady as a catalyst to address educational challenges in Central Ohio by bringing together many parties involved in childhood development—libraries, faith-based organizations, nonprofits, pediatricians, mental health professionals and families just to name a few. “So it’s not just a preschool that’s going to get the job done,” she says. “It’s not just the public schools that are going to get the job done.”

In a recent interview with Columbus Monthly, Leach spoke in more detail about issues pertaining to early childhood education and the organization’s future.

When FutureReady first started it had a lot of civic support, but it seems to have lost some momentum with the departure of Lillian Lowery and some of the original staff. How do you try to regain some of that and stay relevant in your work?

“It will be natural for me to bring enthusiasm to this arena once again. And the need is so compelling, and we have an opportunity to do something powerful about it. I believe that by putting all parties together we can come up with the Columbus solution to the challenges that confront young children. I would love for us to be a national leader. I would love for people to come to Columbus and learn how their communities can transform the lives of young children, and therefore the lives of their community. When we invest in the lives of our young children, we’re really informing the future citizens. And that’s what I’m going to do. I will be knocking on doors, making calls, visiting preschools and issuing the charge and bringing us together to solve the challenges that confront us.”

I saw that FutureReady’s goal in the previous administration was to increase early childhood readiness for kindergarten from 65 percent to 90 percent by 2025. Is that a goal that you’re still looking to achieve?

“I want 100 percent of the children. I can’t imagine saying anything less than 100 percent, because which 10 percent would I leave out? Which 20 percent would I leave out? So I have to work with the board—whom I need to speak with—so I would say that goal is going to be visited by the board, by the community of FutureReady Columbus to further hone that into the specific numbers. But personally I would like 100 percent of the children to be kindergarten-ready.”

If kids are in an area or an environment where there are other struggles, whether it’s food insecurity or poverty or whatever the case may be, how do you go about trying to provide the kind of education they need while other aspects of their lives may be hindering the very brain development you’re trying to promote?

“You have to have all parties around the table because it is more than just getting your child to school. There’s a lot of research available right now on trauma and on how trauma impacts children. And it’s really important to have all teachers be informed in how to support a child who’s been traumatized, whether it’s through food insecurity or their safety has been compromised.”

What do you see as the organization’s most crucial goal in the short term?

“To say that we’re alive, we’re well, we have a very important charge before us—let’s go.”

And what do you see as the biggest challenge to your work at this point?

“Probably the complexity of the solutions. There is no silver bullet. We need to develop a comprehensive approach to making sure that children birth through 5 are ready to enter school. It’s a complicated endeavor, but I believe we can do it. There are amazing people in this city that care deeply about our youngest, and I believe that if we can coordinate our efforts, be respectful of what we all bring as solutions, I think we can reach a very happy conclusion to our work—a very fulfilling, rewarding conclusion to this challenge.”

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