Jermall Wright has been principal at Leckie Elementary School in Southwest Washington for three years. (John Kelly/THE WASHINGTON POST)

When Jermall Wright was a boy, his idea of fun was setting up a chalkboard in the back yard of his Jacksonville, Fla., home and offering impromptu lessons for neighborhood kids. By age 12, he was teaching vacation Bible school at his church. In his teens, he was teaching kindergarten and Sunday school.

In other words, from an early age it seemed inevitable that Jermall Wright would end up where I met him this week: in the principal’s office at M.V. Leckie Elementary School in Southwest Washington.

“Teaching is my first love,” Principal Wright told me. And so is administration, that no-less-important aspect of education. We need our great teachers, but we need our great principals, too.

Leckie is the District public school I’ve selected this year to benefit from readers’ Giant and Safeway loyalty cards. If you’re not already supporting your own child’s school, I urge you to link your card to Leckie. (There are instructions below.)

Until three years ago, Principal Wright had spent his entire career in the Florida sunshine. Then he heard about the initiatives underway in the District and, eager for a change, headed north to take the reins at Leckie.

“I refer to it as the hidden jewel,” he told me.

Yes, it’s in Ward 8, the city’s poorest, and yes fully three-quarters of the 370 students quality for free or reduced-price lunches, but Principal Wright has a committed core of teachers, and he came on the heels of the dedicated previous principal, Clementine Homesley.

Principal Wright is proudest of three initiatives he’s instituted at Leckie. First, he decided that no amount of test tips and tricks was going to help students who simply couldn’t read. “You can teach them test-taking strategies all day long, but if they’re in the fifth grade and reading at a second-grade level, they can’t access the test,” he said. “If they don’t leave here knowing how to read, we’re setting them up for failure.”

He increased the number of children who spend part of the day in intensive reading intervention.

Secondly, he lobbied successfully for a program for preschoolers called “Tools of the Mind.” It aims to transform kids as young as 3 from passive learners into active learners by encouraging them to help plan the day’s lessons.

Finally, he reached out to nearby Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. Many parents there had been reluctant to send their kids to the neighborhood school. Now enrollment from Bolling has increased, and mentors from the base come each week to tutor individual Leckie students. It’s an effort that starts at the top, with base commander Capt. Anthony Calandra. “He and his wife mentor kids,” Principal Wright said. “They were here just last week.”

Principal Wright likes learning nearly as much as he likes teaching. He completed all the coursework for his PhD at the University of Florida but put aside the dissertation to come to Leckie.

“It’s my very first time not working and going to school at the same time,” he lamented.

I won’t be surprised if he fits that dissertation in somehow.

How to help Leckie

Linking your loyalty card to Leckie is an easy way to help the school earn a few thousand dollars this year. Giant’s program, A+ School Rewards, runs through March 29. People must reenroll their Giant cards every year. You can do that at Put in your 12-digit Giant card number and the first three letters of your last name, then enter Leckie Elementary School’s identification number: 00273. Or you can call 877-275-2758. (If you don’t know your Giant card number, call 877-366-2668.)

Safeway’s rebate program is handled by the California company eScrip. Participants must renew every year. To reenroll, go to and click on the red check mark that says “Renew your commitment to Safeway Stores today.” Search for Leckie, or enter the school’s Safeway group ID number: 11873225. To sign up for the first time, go to and click “1. Sign Up.” You’ll need the 11-digit number from your Safeway card. If you punch in your phone number at checkout instead of using your card, you can get your card number by calling 877-723-3929.