Jerry and Jody’s Kids: Where are They Now?

Written by: Joe Hawkins

This past October, the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) renamed Broad Acres Elementary School after its former principal Jody Leleck, who died of cancer in 2012.  The school now is named the Jody Leleck Elementary School at Board Acres.[i]  Leleck is credited with raising the academic achievement levels of Board Acres students over a five-year period between 1999 and 2004.[ii]

Leleck’s friends agree that renaming Broad Acres after her was a noble way to honor her legacy.  I did not know Leleck, and yet on the surface, I also agree with the renaming.  But recently, when I posted a comment about the renaming on a Leleck friend’s Facebook page, asking, “Where are the Leleck kids now?,” you would have thought I had called for a Spanish-Inquisition of the Leleck legacy.

Perhaps the friend thought I was questioning the Leleck Broad Acres legacy.  Honestly, all I think I was asking was if is there was any real interest in knowing what became of the Leleck kids.  After all, isn’t knowing how these students turned out later in middle school or high school or later as adults the point to having a legacy?


The origins of Jerry’s Kids

As Leleck was settling into her new chores at Broad Acres Elementary school, Jerry Weast was settling into his first school year as the new MCPS superintendent.  During that first year, Weast kicked off a major early childhood initiative that poured additional resources into elementary schools located mostly in low-income Montgomery County neighborhoods, including the Broad Acres community.  The Weast initiative, officially referred to as the Early Success Performance Plan (the Plan), included “ … a series of interwoven early education inititiaves, including reduced class size, full-kindergarten, revised curriculum assessments aligned with curriculum, professional development, and increased family/school communication.”[iii]  For the first year alone, experts documented the initial price tag of the Plan at $100 million.[iv]  MCPS was indeed investing a lot of resources into bettering the lives of its poor students.


MCPS students exposed to the Plan soon became known as Jerry’s kids.  One might catch a Board of Education meeting on cable TV, and when discussing the Plan and how it was moving along, it was common to hear a Board member ask, “How are Jerry’s kids doing?”  Researchers focused on documenting the Plan, and its impacts, also referred to the various cohorts of students exposed to the Plan as Jerry’s kids.[v]


Over the years, I’ve raised the same question about the Weast legacy as I did earlier about the Leleck legacy.  Frequently, I have asked friends, experts, and researchers familiar with MCPS and the Plan, “Where are Jerry’s kids?”


That first cohort of Jerry’s kids should be college sophomores now


One can easily do the math.  The first cohort of Jerry’s kids entered MCPS as kindergarteners during the 1999-2000 school year.  And so, 15 years later, assuming college was a goal—and that is a typical goal for most MCPS graduates, the vast majority of Jerry’s kids (Class of 2013) should be college sophomores. The second cohort should be college freshmen (Class of 2014), the third should be MCPS high school seniors (Class of 2015), and on and on.  A typical MCPS class is roughly 10,000 students, and a typical cohort of Jerry’s kids is roughly 1,000 students.[vi]


Keep in mind that Jerry’s kids (various cohorts) are narrowly defined here as those MCPS students, especially the students of color, exposed to the Plan starting in 1999, although there have been attempts to broaden the group beyond these specific cohorts.  For example, in 2010, a Pew report[vii] made the claim that the Plan produced impacts across all grade levels, and that the Plan also resulted in more MCPS seniors enrolling in college. But in 2010, that very first cohort of Jerry’s kids sat in the 9th grade.  The notion that the Plan already had impacted college enrollments for MCPS students exposed to the Plan logically was not possible.  If college enrollments were increasing, and they were (this is well documented by MCPS), that outcome was not caused the Plan.


Unfortunately Leading for Equity does not tell us where Jerry’s kids are


To date, there have been a few organized attempts to document the Plan and its impacts.[viii]  The best, and perhaps the most exhaustive attempt at documenting the Plan, is the 2009 book Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in Montgomery County Public Schools.  For free, one can find a great deal of the book’s content at: .


Leading for Equity documents the various moving parts under the Plan, as well as how they fit together.  There is an entire chapter devoted to how MCPS unions partnered with MCPS management and the Board of Education to support and implement the Plan.  There is another chapter devoted solely to discussing the data systems MCPS put in place to monitor the Plan.  The book concludes with a chapter that prescribes a step-by-step blueprint for replicating the Plan outside of MCPS.  But what’s missing from Leading for Equity is any specific data that allow readers to figure out what happened to Jerry’s kids.


There are a few sweeping bulleted data points in an early chapter of Leading for Equity; however, it is clear that what’s presented does not at all represent data tied to specific cohorts of Jerry’s kids.  For example, one data point is: “In 1999, 36 percent of all students enrolled in algebra by eight grade, including 17 percent of African American students and 14 percent of Hispanic students. In 2008, 60 percent of all students, including 38 percent of African American and 39 percent of Hispanic students, enrolled in algebra by eighth grade.”


This change in a single data point is impressive.  But unfortunately, the first cohort of Jerry’s kids were 7th graders during the 2007-08 school year (2008), and so the change reported says little about the impact of the Plan.  But even if the first cohort of Jerry’s kids had been 8th graders, this Algebra data point, is not how one would show and track change if the goal was to demonstrate the Plan’s impact.  What we want to see would be comparisons of Algebra enrollment rates between cohorts of non-Jerry’s kids and Jerry’s kids.  A table such as the one below might sufficient.  Such a table would trend Algebra enrollment rates across various senior classes from 2006 (Class of 2010) through 2011 (Class of 2015).  If the Plan was impacting outcomes in a positive way, one would expect to see steady enrollment rate increases across the classes.  And further, we really must see tables that isolate and focus just on Jerry’s kids.  Simply, throwing out a data point that says, “Black kids increased AP enrollments” says practically nothing specific about Jerry’s kids.


Note to readers:  The table below is a suggested template.  The table is intentionally blank.


8th grade Algebra enrollment rate (% enrolled)
Cohort Jerry’s kids Total Whites Asians Blacks Hispanics
Class of 2010 (06) no
Class of 2011 (07) no
Class of 2012 (08) no
Class of 2013 (09) yes
Class of 2014 (10) yes
Class of 2015 (11) yes


At the middle level, one also could compare Jerry’s kids to kids demographically similar.  As a typical MCPS class snakes it way through the grades, we know that kids come and go.  By middle school, especially by the time 8th grade Algebra rolls around, we could probably muster up a fairly large group of kids that look like Jerry’s kids demographically, but missed the benefits of the Plan because they entered MCPS at later grades.  These groups of Jerry-like kids make for ideal comparison groups.


Did Jerry’s kids really close the gap?


Jerry Weast retired from MCPS in 2011.  When he retired most MCPS-watchers[ix] concluded that Jerry’s kids were wonder students who had not only narrowed significant long-standing achievement gaps—test scores, graduation rates—but had closed them.  In fact, in early 2010, Weast testifying to a U.S. congressional subcommittee stated with clarity that MCPS had closed its achievement gap.  He told the subcommittee The district (MCPS) is proud of its accomplishments during the last decade in improving the level of student achievement and closing the gap between white and Asian American students and African American and Hispanic students.”[x]


In fact, MCPS discovered shortly after Weast’s departure that gaps really had not closed at all.  MCPS’s new superintendent, Joshua Starr, found himself embarking on a new journey to accomplish what Weast had not accomplished—narrow and close significant long-standing achievement gaps.[xi]


And so the work of raising the achievement levels of non-whites—mostly black and Latino students—remains a MCPS priority.  And it should remain a priority because the work is not done.  But what amazingly has never been a priority is answering the simple question: Where are Jerry’s kids?  Perhaps Jerry’s kids did close some gaps. Jerry’s kids are generally compared to MCPS whites (and Asians), with those comparisons revealing gaps never closed.  But what if we compared Jerry’s kids only to their peers—those who never benefited from the Plan’s investments but are demographically similar. Shouldn’t we want to know what such comparisons reveal?  Shouldn’t we know if Jerry’s kids outperformed their peers?


A long list of questions without answers


Let me be more specific here about thing we might want to know.  And so 15-16 years after implementing the Plan, and spending more money than most public school districts can ever hope to spend, the public has no answers to a long list of critically important questions about Jerry’s kids.  Questions such as:


  • How many of Jerry’s kids avoided special education?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids exited ESOL language services earlier than expected?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids avoided being suspended?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids exited the 5th grade reading on grade level?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids repeated a grade; never repeated a grade?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids departed MCPS as they snaked their way through MCPS?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids entered high school with Algebra 1 completed in a prior grade?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids were still enrolled in MCPS by the time they hit high school?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids dropped out of high school?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids became involved and active high school students; participated in extracurricular activities?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids enrolled in an Advanced Placement course?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids enrolled in college?


Take, for example, the special education question.  The Plan and its investments might have resulted in Jerry’s kids being better prepared academically as they advanced through the MCPS grades.  One could hypothesize, for example, that the Plan resulted in more of Jerry’s kids reading better and performing math at higher skill levels.  These academic gains would then have had a serious impact on reducing the need for Jerry’s kids to receive special education services.  In turn, these reductions in special education placements would have a positive impact on MCPS budget expenditures, perhaps demonstrating that the Plan eventually provides special education cost savings—a win-win, right?  And yet, 15 years later, we find ourselves not knowing much at all about what the Plan impacted.


Is it too late to track Jerry’s kids?


In a perfect world, MCPS planners should have put resources on the table upfront to track Jerry’s kids from their first day of kindergarten through high school and into adulthood.  MCPS has done some tracking of Jerry’s kids through the primary grades, but one cannot find any references to research reports tracking various cohorts of Jerry’s kids through the middle school grades, into high schools, and then beyond on the MCPS Office of Shared Accountability’s website.  As noted above, the first cohort of Jerry’s kids are college sophomores this year, assuming college was a goal.


The suggestion to track Jerry’s kids from their first day of kindergarten, through the grades, and then beyond high school graduation into adulthood, typically is referred to in research circles as longitudinal research.  A well-executed longitudinal study of Jerry’s kids would document and track all of Jerry’s kids, even those exiting MCPS across the grades (e.g., those who might depart MCPS because their family moves out of state).  At the high school level, tracking also would include following those who dropped out or those who exited high school successfully but decided not to attend college (e.g, tracking even those who entered the miliary).  To gauge the true impacts of the Plan requires that we know what the outcomes were for all of Jerry’s kids.


Longitudinal research studies are fairly common and often are funded by the federal government.  Some studies are extremely ambious in scope and nature.  Take, for example, the National Children’s Study, a federally funded longitudinal study managed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Eventually, it will end up following 100,000 U.S. children from before birth through age 21.  The goal of the research is to determine what impacts children’s health and well-being.[xii]


The federal government has a fairly solid history of tracking the development of young children. For example, the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study program includes three longitudinal studies that examine child development, school readiness, and early school experiences.[xiii]  Over time, these studies have generated a wealth of knowledge about what impacts school outcomes in the elementary grades.  We know, for example, that mothers who consistently read to their young children end up with better and more developed readers.


One also finds universities engaged in longitudinal studies.  Princeton and Columbia Universities are partnering to conduct the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study.[xiv]  This longitudinal study is following a cohort of almost 5,000 children, most of whom are born to unmarried parents.


Perhaps one of the best known longitudinal study is the HighScope Perry Preschool Study.[xv]  This study has been tracking a cohort of youngsters who experienced Head Start-like preschool experiences in the early 1960s.  The study successfully has tracked 97% of the orginal cohort members through adulthood.  There is a fascinating video available that takes a brief look at outcomes for the cohort members who reached age 40.  Click here to view the video: .  The outcomes are extremely impressive, and they underscore the long-term and lasting impacts of exposing poor youngsters to high-quality preschool experiences.  Shouldn’t we want the same for Jerry’s kids?  And how about Jody’s kids?


And so, perhaps back to the future is in order


In 1999, a wise MCPS would have pre-planned a longitudinal study to track Jerry’s kids.  Going back in time now and recreating complete student records for a cohort of Jerry’s kids might prove to be cost prohibitive, especially, tracking down the records of Jerry’s kids who left MCPS.  Tracking is fairly inexpensive when it is planned, but finding hundreds of Jerry’s kids who are now “to the winds” would be an expensive endeavor.  It always is less expensive to gather data moving forward than it is to gather data moving backwards.


Going back, however, is possible and it has been successfully executed by MCPS in the past.   In 1985, a MCPS researcher conducted a study of Head Start graduates and uncovered positive, long-lasting impacts.[xvi]  This 1985 study was a historical review of MCPS academic records.  So, perhaps back to the future is once again in order for MCPS.  MCPS could pick the Class of 2015, the third official Jerry’s kids cohort, and back track to uncover everything we need to determine where Jerry’s kids are, including those that departed MCPS early.  And while MCPS researchers are at it they also could figure out what happened to Jody’s kids.  Not knowing these legacies is not just a shame but also an embarrassing misstep that prevents us from knowing if the Plan really worked.


Postscript comment on Jody’s kids versus Jerry’s kids


I’m sure some will argue that Jody’s kids and Jerry’s kids are not part of the same conversation.  I completely disagree, and believe they are critically linked.  Jody’s kids were exposed to additional resources beyond Weast’s original Plan.[xvii]  Nonetheless, much of what took place at Broad Acres Elementary School was the Plan.  Regardless, I think it would be a fascinating undertaking (study) to figure out the answers to both questions, where are Jody’s kids and where are Jerry’s kids?  And I would hypothesize that Jody’s kids ought to be achieving a levels slightly above Jerry’s kids.  In fact, one way to view Jody’s kids is to simply see them as kids exposed to the Plan on steoroids.

[i] .


[ii]It is important to point out that in some documents, the time period contributed to the Leleck years is 1999 to 2004. In other documents, the time period is shorter and documents successes, for example, over a two-year period, 2003-04. See, for example, , written by Mark Simon.


[iii],  p.1.


[iv]The authors of the 2009 book Leading for Equity frequently cite the Plan’s first year price tag as $100 million.




[vi],  p.13.




[viii]One can find MCPS reports at this website: .




[x]Testimony of Dr. Jerry D. Weast, Superintendent of Schools, Montgomery County Public Schools.

Hearing of the United States Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies. January 21, 2010.















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