At 51, Leon Dudley is legally blind. But he has a clear vision of where he wants to take the 700-student Tates Creek Middle School in Lexington, Ky.
The new principal's dedication has made him a favorite at the school, where he is the third principal to serve in three years.
He landed the job after traveling to Kentucky to visit a sick relative. With a low state ranking, an uneasy staff, and students who lack motivation and behavioral control, Tates Creek is far from a model school," he said.
But Mr. Dudley plans to change all that. His goal: to turn Tates Creek into a national Blue Ribbon School by 2004.
"I'm not a micromanager," he said. "I believe in giving people the go-ahead to do what they need to do, to do what they're paid to do. That's what creates success—establishing good relationships and empowering people to make changes."
Mr. Dudley began to lose his sight in 1986, when he was beginning a new career as an educator after working as an insurance agent, bail bondsman, chef, and hotel doorman.
Within a few years, people and objects began to blur until he could no longer clearly distinguish their features. Doctors diagnosed him as having Stargardts disease, a condition that eventually destroys cells that are responsible for color perception and central vision. Peripheral vision is unaffected.
Despite the impairment, Mr. Dudley refused to give up teaching. He taught 3rd grade in Dallas and went on to serve as the principal of six alternative schools for the Dallas Independent School District. He was named the "principal of the year" in the Dallas area in 1997.
Now he is working on a doctoral degree, using computer software and voice- activated calculators for help.
"It may take me longer to do some things than others," he said, "but I am totally committed to my students—and this school will improve."
Vol. 21, Issue 13, Page 3Published in Print: November 28, 2001, as Take Note