What’s So Great About the Lexington Education Foundation?

Why LEF is a critical part of school success in Lexington, and how you can help.

In partnership with Lexington Public Schools, the Lexington Education Foundation provides grant opportunities to encourage innovation and inspire joy in teaching and life-long learning.LEF invites all community members to participate in its mission.

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

After the schools closed down last spring, Amy Ryan joined the board of the Lexington Education Foundation (LEF) as Communications VP. A mother of four— with children at Estabrook Elementary, Diamond Middle School, and Lexington High—Ryan works full-time in public relations. Like many modern families, especially those raising multiple children, the Ryan household has a lot of moving parts. Pre-Covid, she and her husband were happy to donate money to LEF every year and drop off the occasional tray of bagels for an event.

But then, as Ryan explained, Covid changed everything.


“I started to attend virtual School Committee meetings and to see the struggles teachers were dealing with,” she recalled. “With four kids in school, I realized I could use my skill set to spread the good word about LEF. For me, the most meaningful thing to do was join this board, work with teachers directly, and work with the grants that really make positive impact.”

Ryan said she has quickly come to realize how this investment of her time and expertise contribute to feelings of connection to the schools and the town. “It’s a sense of community. For someone who has kids in multiple schools across the spectrum [from elementary to high school], it helped me feel better connected to all the schools at the same time, rather than spend a few hours in each one, here and there.

“The LEF board is also a bunch of really smart, sophisticated people,” Ryan continued. “Even though it’s virtual right now, they help me ‘up my game.’ I love the interaction, and I think we help each other to be better and stronger. We all kind of need that these days.”

LEF Co-President Raquel Leder agrees that being connected to the whole school district is a major benefit of involvement in the Lexington Education Foundation. Leder’s main focus as a board member is grant administration, which she finds both exciting and fulfilling, but the rewards of learning about what lies ahead for her three children have been invaluable as they transition through the grades.

“It can seem scary and daunting and you’re wondering how your kids will handle it,” Leder said. “The people involved with LEF help you understand what’s happening at the next level before your kids get there— which is exciting and cool and supportive.”

Co-President Patrice Cleaves, also a mother of three, became involved with LEF because she wanted to use her marketing skills and because she sees LEF as a way to “spread your wings” to help the entire school community. “I purposely didn’t join the PTO at Estabrook School because I found my skill set better suited to serving the district-at-large,” Cleaves said. “It’s been really great to be a part of LEF because you connect with the kids, you talk to teachers. you see and hear the emotions in their voices when they talk about the grants.”

One of the ways LEF connects directly with students is through the organization’s Student Ambassadors program, whose participants can attend board meetings and review grant applications submitted by teachers, administrators, and staff. Cleaves expressed deep appreciation for the students that participate in the Ambassador program: “[They] are the most well-spoken, smart group of kids. I’m always in awe of them. Their questions are really eloquent. They are a credit to the Lexington Public Schools.”


As expressed on its website, the Lexington Education Foundation “is a community-based nonprofit, volunteer-run organization that raises financial support from families and businesses in Lexington to fund exceptional educational activities that address the Lexington Public Schools’ priorities but fall outside the scope of the LPS budget…. Since 1989, LEF has awarded more than $5 million for activities designed to enrich the learning experience and strengthen the achievement of every student in every Lexington public school.”

LEF’s stated mission is: “To bring the community together to build and sustain the excellence of Lexington public schools. To support exceptional educational activities in all Lexington Public Schools. To bring innovative instruction and new technologies into Lexington’s classrooms. To support faculty’s professional learning. To help our schools build strong, student-centered learning communities that inspire and engage every student to reach their greatest potential.” Co-President Leder puts it this way: “At the center— and why I love LEF— are the grants. They help our students by helping our teachers, administrators, and staff. Everything we do builds around the grants so it was only natural— when Covid came in— to find a way to help through grant-giving.”


Pre-Covid, LEF awarded $250,000 in grants each year in three different categories:

• School Community Grants which provide equal dollar amounts to each school for principals to use at their discretion for innovation and creativity initiatives;
• Fellowship Grants which provide access to funds for professional development/learning;
• Program Grants that a group of teachers can apply for to develop or expand programming.

LEF’s ability to fund grants is derived from a number of sources: direct donations from parents and other community members; appreciation recognitions called STAR Awards; corporate and small business sponsorships; Trivia Bee, Celebration for Education, and other events.

Once Covid caused the schools to close down—and not incidentally sidelined LEFs revenue-producing events—the Board realized it needed to evaluate the district’s needs, and LEF’s ability to meet them, in a changed landscape. Leder explained it was at this juncture that LEF re-committed its pledge to award $250,000 in 2020-21, no matter what the year brought.

The first order of business, then, was to create a new Covid Response grant category which has a rapid approval turnaround of two weeks, rather than the usual, far longer grant cycle.

To this initiative, LEF dedicated $100,000 of the $250,000. So far, about half of the $100,000 has been awarded. Examples of grants given include two from the elementary schools that are math-related and intended to support early learners as they acquire essential foundational skills via off-screen activities, such as math puzzles and tactile manipulatives.

Another grant— awarded to a Diamond School Science teacher— enables students to “travel” to Europa, one of the moons of the planet Jupiter. In this activity, students focus on teamwork, problem-solving, communication, and decision making: skills that directly connect to Science curriculum standards for the grade level.


LEF’s second Covid-related effort started this past December/January. It piggy-backs on the saliva surveillance pool-testing initiative originally spearheaded by the Wellesley Education Foundation for the Wellesley Public Schools.

According to an interview with Superintendent of Schools Dr. Julie Hackett, published in the January/February Colonial Times Magazine, the saliva testing pool model makes it possible to offer screening to a greater number of people at a fraction of the cost of individualized testing. Lexington’s program is voluntary and tests are self-administered. This program focuses solely on middle school and high school students and has been extended past the original 8-weeks, due not only to the arrival of new virus strains but also to the success of identifying several asymptomatic cases, which allowed the Schools to quickly isolate affected individuals and avoid community spread.

An elementary school program will begin in early March so that kindergarten through second-grade students may return to in-person learning during the month of April.

For Lexington, the cost of the original saliva-testing program for the middle and high school populations is $229,000. LEF is partnering with the district to help defray the expense; to that end, LEF has established a fundraising campaign separate from either its regular grant program or the Covid Response grant program.

Of the $229,000, LEF has raised $55,000. Superintendent Hackett, reported in the CTM interview that the district has also filed paperwork to take advantage of funding offered through Governor Baker’s new nasal swabbing program, although the outcome of that request is unknown at this time.

Whatever the final cost is, the LEF board members say that the organization stands ready to help as much as possible because, as Co-President Cleaves said, surveillance testing provides protection and comfort for teachers, parents, and students.


The Lexington Education Foundation website provides more information on LEFs various programs, how to become active in the organization, and how to donate to any/all its initiatives, including the STAR, CONSTELLATION, and GALAXY appreciation awards. A recipient of these appreciation awards can be anyone in the community who merits recognition— not only teachers, staff, administrators but also business owners and employees, Town Government volunteers and staff, medical workers, child care providers, etc.

Leder, Cleaves, and Ryan want to extend a warm welcome to anyone who wants to help with LEF’s efforts. There is always a need, they say. Roles and tasks of all kinds on LEF’s board and committees are designed to suit all levels of interest or availability. Specific areas include event support, school liaisons, fundraising, communications, social media, partnerships, advisory, resource development.

Leder also noted that LEF has engaged in deeper thinking about the organization this year: what it wants to do and what it wants to be going forward. “If someone cares passionately about their children’s education and they want to help the community, LEF is a great place to be,” Leder said. “A lot of people are feeling the pain of what we’ve been going through. Voicing disappointment does nothing. If you channel that energy and desire for things to get better, there’s hope. “We really want to reach out more and have LEF look more like what Lexington looks like as a community,” she continued. “We want to bring more diversity into the organization. We have so many opportunities, at all levels, from a few hours to a bigger commitment. All skills are welcome. Everyone belongs here.”


Everyone is welcome!



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