Education Activist, Philanthropist Gerard ‘Gerry’ Leeds Dies at 92

By Corey Mitchell — December 03, 2014 1 min read
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Entrepreneur and philanthropist Gerard “Gerry” Leeds, who founded several advocacy groups dedicated to improving education for children in impoverished communities, died Nov. 27. He was 92.

Mr. Leeds and his wife, Lilo, founded the Alliance for Excellent Education in 1999 with the goal of shining a spotlight on the nation’s at-risk secondary students, those likely to leave high school without a diploma or graduate unprepared for success in college and the workplace.

Now headed by former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, the Washington-based advocacy group has made its mark by targeting issues such as high school quality and dismal graduation rates.

Mr. Leeds and his wife launched the Institute for Student Achievement, a like-minded organization, in 1990 to help schools strive for better-prepared graduates and fewer dropouts. The Institute, which merged with the Educational Testing Service in 2013, now partners with 80 schools in districts in Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Texas.

Mr. Leeds’ “legacy touches nearly every urban classroom in the country,” Mr. Wise said.

He fled Nazi Germany ahead of the Holocaust, arriving in the United States in the late 1930s with almost no money. In 1971, he and his wife launched CMP Media Inc., which rose to become a leading publisher of business newspapers, magazines and Internet services for high-tech industries. After turning over management of the company to two of their children in the late 1980s, the Leeds turned their attention to philanthropy.

The Leeds family also founded the Schott Foundation for Public Education, a Cambridge, Mass.-based foundation focused on equity in childcare and K-12 education. The organization is perhaps best known for its work tracking the educational progress of black males.

“There are a lot of worthwhile causes to give money to: the church, the hospitals, the museums,” Mr. Leeds told the New York Times in 1998. “We think education is primary. Education can change the world. We support all kinds of things in a responsible way. But we’re reserving the substance of what we’re able to do for education.”

Photo courtesy of the Alliance for Excellent Education

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.