Leeann Klein has been teaching – nationally and internationally – for 20 years, and 14 of those she’s spent teaching and living her faith at Saint Mary’s. She’s retiring at the end of this school year.
Leeann grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her father was a fireman. She grew up going to Catholic school and had an undiagnosed reading problem as a child. She said that once it was identified and she received help, her whole world was so much easier.
“My reading issue and the people who helped me definitely lead me to teaching,” she said.
Leeann went to college at Marymount University for two years, and finished college at Mary Baldwin University. She met her husband, Mike, through her brother, Eddie; Mike and Eddie were friends who both attended Westpoint. Eddie was in a car accident, and Mike would pick Leeann up and give her a ride to visit Eddie in the hospital. They were married in 1985 at Westpoint.
After graduating Westpoint Mike was in the Army, and throughout their time in the military, Leeann and Mike and their family moved 13 times, twice living in Europe. Leeann began her career in Charlottesville while they lived there, teaching kindergarten at Jackson Via Elementary.
When she and her family lived in Germany, Leeann was a substitute in Department of Defense schools. She took some years off when her children were little – she and Mike have five children, the youngest of whom are twin girls (who are now 23). She taught middle school science, and later taught second grade at a school in Burke, Virginia.
Their family moved to Richmond in 2006, and Leeann started teaching at Saint Mary’s in 2008 – first teaching kindergarten, then first grade, then second. The first year she was here, Susan Trout (now a fourth-grade teacher at SMCS) and Heather Heishman (now director of liturgical ministry at St. Mary Catholic Church) were her aides.
“Leeann is the definition of the mission at St. Mary’s School. Her strong moral compass and life rooted in faith is an example to all who know her. Her faithfulness, dedication to academics, and caring approach to teaching make her a beloved teacher among the students. She loves and guides with an honest and straight forward approach. She always has time to catch up with colleagues and pitch in to help out,” notes Susan. “We will all miss her morning greeting in the hallways, ‘Have a happy day!’.”
Through their work together, Heather and Leeann became good friends and remain close. Heather said: “Leeann is a child’s best advocate. She is willing to share hard things with parents because she knows it’s the best thing for the child. She’s very giving but doesn’t need to be recognized for her giving. She’s always about doing the right thing, no matter how hard it is.”
Shortly after starting to teach at Saint Mary’s, Leeann began coordinating the school-wide Veteran’s Day assembly and celebration. Each year she’s collected pictures and tributes to students’ and teachers’ family members and friends who serve or have served in the military, and she displays them in the hall. She coordinates a speaker each year to talk about military service.
“Saint Mary’s has benefitted from Leeann’s thoughtful care in recognizing the veterans in the community and within our families,” said Bethany Gasperini, a Saint Mary’s parent of five. “Every year our kids enjoy seeing family loved ones in the Veteran’s Day tributes posted along the halls, all made possible through Leeann’s hard work. Both my husband, Geoff, and father-in-law, Richard, have so enjoyed working with her as Veteran’s Day speakers. Her love of country is evident in how she teaches and leads—she goes above and beyond to help instill that patriotism in the community around her.”
Another thing Leeann is known for at Saint Mary’s is her yearly batch of fuzzy chicks – she gets fertilized eggs from a local farm and keeps them in an incubator in her classroom till they hatch, so that her students can follow the journey from egg to chick.
“The chicks keep me coming back to visit Mrs. Klein’s classroom every year,” said Julia Janus (pictured below), a Saint Mary’s seventh grader who had Mrs. Klein as her second-grade teacher. “I keep an eye out every year for hatching time. Mrs. Klein is always happy to let me check on the chicks.”
Leeann says she’s loved being part of students’ faith journeys, as Catholic students traditionally experience first reconciliation and their first Holy Communion during second grade. After receiving their first Eucharist, students become full participants in the Mass and it “changes how they look at Mass,” she said.
One of the things she’s loved most about teaching at Saint Mary’s is the feeling of community that exists here. “I get to see and keep in touch with my students and I get to know their families,” she said.
Jordan Green is one of the students with whom Leeann formed a special connection. Jordan graduated from Saint Mary’s in 2018 and is a senior at St. Margaret’s School in Tappahannock, Va. Mrs. Klein was Jordan’s teacher in both kindergarten and first grade. In later grades, Jordan was struggling academically, and Leeann offered to help. Leeann supported Jordan throughout her time at Saint Mary’s, and still keeps in touch with her now.
Jordan is heading to Pace University in the fall and plans to major in film and screen studies; she wants to tell stories through movies.
“Mrs. Klein’s assistance to me was really helpful when I was at Saint Mary’s,” Jordan said. “She continues to help me today. She sends me cards and is always reaching out to ask me how I am. She motivates me. Because she wants me to do well, I want to do well.”
After retiring, Leeann and Mike plan to travel. They have a house in South Carolina, and want to spend part of the fall there, with Mike working from home. They have one grandchild, James, and another due to arrive in June – so they look forward to more time with their children and grandchildren.
While retirement has lots of attractions, it won’t be easy to leave. “I’m going to miss Saint Mary’s a lot,” she said.