The Student News Site of Westfield High School

Hi's Eye

The Student News Site of Westfield High School

Hi's Eye

The Student News Site of Westfield High School

Hi's Eye

A Class Act: The Legacy of Mrs. Leegan

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Leegan
Kimberly Leegan with her daughter Cara

Educator. Lawyer. Mother. Tennis player. Pickleballer. Award winner. SportsCenter phenomenon. Leader. All of these terms and many more can be used to describe Kimberly Leegan, a social studies teacher and club advisor at WHS. With an impressive resume like hers, many students and colleagues wonder when she has time to sleep, let alone flawlessly complete every task throughout the course of her day. “There is simply no explaining how one person is capable of accomplishing so much. I and everyone I know constantly marvel at how much Mrs. Leegan accomplishes on a daily and yearly basis,” said Steven Cohn, an English teacher who works closely with Leegan.

Leegan explained that the key to her success across numerous aspects of life is balance. Prior to becoming a teacher, Leegan worked as a litigator: a profession that is extremely time consuming for a mother with two small children. “I had worked at a very large law firm, and I went from that large law firm to a smaller law firm hoping to strike a little bit more of a work-life balance,” Leegan explained.

The balance she was striving for ultimately led her to WHS. After the final law firm she worked for closed, Leegan was on the hunt for a new job that would provide her more flexibility but also fall in line with her interests. At the time, she had not considered many other career options outside of law, as she had always pictured herself following in her father’s footsteps.

“I grew up with someone who was incredibly passionate about what he did for a living. The only thing my father loved more than my mother was the law. My brothers both became attorneys and are still very successful attorneys. So when I was in college and it was time for me to decide what I was going to do, I knew that in my family, you go to law school,” explained Leegan.

Being in law school greatly influenced Leegan’s life, more so than simply studying law. Leegan met her husband while attending Seton Hall Law School in almost the exact location where her parents met and also came to realize her appreciation for academics. “If I look through my life, even as a little kid, I always loved being in school. If I was independently wealthy, I would never work. I would just keep going to school to get more and more degrees. I just loved it,” Leegan said.

With a passion for learning and sharing knowledge with others, Leegan received a certification in alternate route teaching and worked at Union Catholic High School before coming to WHS. For the past 16 years, Leegan has worked as a Global Perspectives, Humanities, Mock Trial and Women’s Studies teacher and has advised numerous clubs and activities such as Mock Trial, Jewish Cultural and Development Club and the No Place For Hate Committee.

For her countless efforts within the school community, she was awarded the WHS 2022 Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award, which greatly surprised her despite her obvious qualifications. “I was very honored to receive it. It’s an award that students have to nominate you for, so the fact that students recognize your work is particularly rewarding,” said Leegan.

When considering her background and all she has accomplished thus far, it is easy to idolize Leegan and entirely neglect the numerous minute details that make her who she has become. Cohn accurately described her as a “superhuman,” but also as a “great friend” and kind-hearted individual. As for her students, Cohn said Leegan “takes pictures of them on their birthdays, prints out the pictures, and displays them in the classroom. She listens to and comforts students who get upset.” He also believes that “there is nothing she wouldn’t do for [him] or her many other friends in the building.”

Leegan is very nurturing and that is evident both inside and outside the classroom. As a family-oriented individual, she takes pride in the many memories she has created with her relatives, even those who are more distant.

Leegan shares ties to not one, but two celebrities: Burl Ives, the voice of Sam the Snowman in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Frank Sinatra, a singing legend from New Jersey. Though only distantly related to Ives and only affiliated with Sinatra through the brief romantic relationship her grandmother had with him, her connections to them remain an interesting story.

Leegan shared a memory from a Sinatra concert she attended with her grandmother: “We got tickets to bring my grandmother to a Frank Sinatra concert. So this had to be in the late 70s or early 80s. We all went to the show. We were sitting up there not super close to the stage. When he came out to perform, my grandmother stood up and just yelled, ‘Frank! It’s me, Evelyn, from Hoboken!’ Of course, he couldn’t see us, and we said, ‘Oh my God, Grandma.’”

Within her immediate family, however, her stories are much more heartfelt than comical. Her daughter, Cara Leegan, defines her not only as “optimistic,” but also “very caring and empathetic.” Cara explained, “She showed me how important it is to be passionate about what you do. Whether it was education or any area of my life, passion is what fuels you to keep working hard.”

After observing her mother’s passion and her work as a teacher, Cara developed an interest for education and is currently pursuing a degree in early childhood education. “I always really liked to visit my mother at her first teaching job. Because we had different school calendars, a lot of times if I was off from school, she would have school and I would sit in the back of her classroom with my Barbie laptop and pretend to be like the high schoolers when I was in elementary school,” Cara said.

As a mother-daughter duo in education, both Leegan and Cara agree on how much their career choices have strengthened their bond. They have attended education conferences and workshops together and enjoy sharing their insights with one another. “[Cara] shares stuff with me, and it’s really interesting to see all the different things that she’s learning,” said Leegan.

In addition to teaching, Cara explained that she and her mother also bond over many other interests, such as watching reality television, an unlikely activity for someone as down-to-earth and level-headed as Leegan. “I think she’s eccentric. She always marches to the beat of her own drum and isn’t afraid to break the rules,” said Cara.

This strong-willed nature that Cara described is apparent across many aspects of Leegan’s life, especially in her competitive nature. “I started playing tennis in high school mainly because I’m extremely competitive, and I have two older brothers who were very good basketball players. There was no way I was ever going to beat my brothers in basketball, but then I started playing tennis and started to get better at it. Not that I’m great at tennis, but I was good enough to beat them. And that was a big motivating factor,” Leegan reflected.

Though she remains a tennis player at heart and continues to play both tennis, and now pickleball, outside of work, she is more well-known at WHS for her basketball skills. A video of her shooting a basketball into a mini hoop in Dr. Antony Farag’s classroom went viral in early 2020 and was featured on SportsCenter’s Instagram after he promised the class that if she made the shot, they would receive a 100 percent on an upcoming assessment.

At the suggestion of possibly going pro, she erupted in thunderous laughter, and explained, “I was really thinking about whether or not I would lose my job.” She reflected on how surreal it was to see the views and comments increase on the video throughout that day, and particularly how shocking the moment was for teachers and students throughout the school.“Some of the teachers on the floor below us went into a lockdown thinking there was something going on in the building; that’s how loud we were,” Leegan said with a chuckle.

From being a pro-baller to a successful leader in every aspect of her life, Leegan continues to impress WHS with her ability to constantly conquer new challenges and connect people while doing so.

Though her job often comes with obstacles, Leegan always remains optimistic. “It’s all about your definition of success. I get to do a job that I absolutely love that’s exhausting, but cool. I’m still interested, I’m still curious and I think that’s a good thing,” she said.

For Leegan, open-mindedness and determination have helped her grow into the successful figure we know today. “You have to be open to the possibilities of life. The more open we are, the bigger our world is.”

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