Jan Gleeson may have passed on, but people who knew and worked with her say her memory and passion for education is still being felt everyday at Horizon Community Learning Center.
Gleeson, who passed away on Oct. 15 after a battle with cancer, was executive director and one of the original founders of the Ahwatukee Foothills charter school. She and Larry Pieratt started the school in 1996 in a reclaimed space, a warehouse building in Chandler. Since then, 14 years and a new campus later, Gleeson helped mold HCLC into the award-winning charter school that it is today.
"They created an organization and a vision that is going to continue past any of us being here," said Laura Wanstreet, HCLC's primary and intermediate school principal. "For her, it was about having people who get it. We all learned so much from her."
Nancy Emmons, HCLC's middle and high school principal, who knew Gleeson from when she was a teacher in the Kyrene School District, described her as a person who "had an unbelievable sense of humor and ... always kept you kind of giggling."
"Her humor showed a different side of her," Emmons said. "The thing that Jan brought to education as a teacher is she understood more than anybody I met the importance of creativity. And how critical it was in helping children continue to dream."
Wanstreet and Emmons, who have known Gleeson for more than 10 years, agreed that while it was and still is a difficult time to deal with her passing, the school was set up for success because of Gleeson and Pieratt and will continue to progress as it always has.
"That legacy Jan leaves, it surrounded her with the folks that could follow her dream," Wanstreet said. "There is no chink in the armor and that is the beauty in the organization."
One of the unique things about the alumni of HCLC, Emmons said, is that even after they have gone to college or moved away, some still return to campus years after.
"The kids feel a connection to this community," she said. "Even the parents who no longer have a child in the school still want to be involved. And I think that is a tribute to how far the school has come over the past 10 years."
In a letter to parents on the day of her death, Steve Holm, HCLC school board president, quotes a passage Gleeson wrote to the HCLC community last year.
She wrote: "There is an air of joy and calm and camaraderie here that you can see and hear every day... It shows in elementary through high school. I experience it at Summatives, concerts, exhibitions and plays of course; but mostly, I experience it walking down the halls, during lunch, and before and after school, the everyday moments. The spirit in this place is profound. It is noticing poignant interactions at HCLC that sure make me realize the beauty in life, the gift of our students."