Leslie Reigns as Queen for a Day
"It's such an honor to receive this award, but so many people are just as deserving of it", Leslie said. Coralee Reiss, who nominated Leslie for the award, said during Monday's ceremony, "Charlotte is deeply committed to the health and welfare not only of children in Fairfield, but all across the state. She is intelligent, thorough and persistent." Leslie was McKinley Elementary School's PTA president-elect during its mold crisis and along with the school's PTA president, Katina Davis, became an advocate for sick students and faculty at the school.
In the early months of the academic year in 2000, toxic mold was discovered at the school after several children and staff members were taken ill. After an outcry by McKinley parents, the school was shut down and students were housed at six other schools. In 2001, the Webster wing at Roger Ludlowe Middle School was refurbished for McKinley children. McKinley subsequently was knocked down and a new school built on the Thompson Street site.
Board of Education member Dave Weber, who also nominated Leslie for the award, said Monday it was "because she has significantly contributed to the betterment of our youth, schools and community, a requirement of this award. I witnessed Charlotte and others in the McKinley community take on, on a day-to-day basis, the overwhelming task of managing a school community in crisis that was unprecedented in the town's history and how to deal with a sick building."
Weber said he admired Leslie "for the time and energy that she contributed well beyond the call of duty and more than any PTA member has had to endure. Leslie seems modest about all she accomplished during her years as a member of the McKinley PTA; she looks at it as something she needed to do." McKinley's motto is "We are family, and during my time there, they were my family and my family was sick. I had to do something", Leslie said.
During the mold crisis, Reiss said Leslie "completely turned her life over and attended four to five town meetings every week so she could stay abreast of all of the McKinley issues. " "As a member of the school's PTA, my job was to be an advocate, so I was. You have to be there, you have to be there and talk to them. They needed to see a McKinley face at those meetings, Leslie said." As word of McKinley's closing spread, Charlotte began to receive phone calls from distressed parents at other sick Connecticut schools. She became a resource for them, running public forums in their towns. She spent many hours traveling to Hartford to testify at legislative hearings on behalf of healthy schools, Reiss said.
Leslie was also a member of the Canary Committee, a statewide grass-roots organization that promoted healthy schools. In 2003 the Canary Committee became the Connecticut Foundation for Environmentally Safe Schools, of which Leslie is a founding member, along with former McKinley teacher Joellen Lawson. CONNFESS' mission is to promote the protection of schools from environmental health hazards such as mold, lead, radon and asbestos. "Our goal is to get people to realize that they need to build these schools right", Leslie said.
Reiss said of CONNFESS, "This group worked very hard to persuade a bipartisan coalition of state House and Senate members to pass Public Act No. 03-220, An Act Concerning Indoor Air Quality in Schools in 2003. It set standards for new construction and set forth a plan to remedy the problems that still exist. But the work is not done. Charlotte continues to travel to Hartford to support strengthening this IAQ legislation to make it more effective."
State Sen. John McKinney, R-28, was on hand during Monday's ceremony and honored Leslie with a surprise citation from the state General Assembly for her dedication to safer schools. McKinney said when the toxic mold crisis at McKinley arose a group of PTA members and parents "led the fight to clean up the McKinley school building but also to educate the entire state on the importance of safe schools. McKinney said the reason state legislators became aware of the Act Concerning Indoor Air Quality in Schools in 2003 was "because of the advocacy of people like Charlotte.
"If that small group of people had not been as persistent and such strong advocates for indoor air quality in our schools that bill would not have been passed she had an impact that went far beyond the Town of Fairfield's lines", McKinney said. First Selectman Kenneth Flatto also honored Leslie during Monday night's award ceremony. Flatto presented her with a certificate of appreciation on behalf of the town and declared Monday Charlotte Leslie Day. "It was a pleasure to honor Charlotte Leslie for all her years of involvement helping school children in Fairfield", Flatto said Tuesday.
Leslie, who plays an active role in the Fairfield Warde High School and Roger Ludlowe Middle School PTAs, is currently working on becoming a trainer for the Tools for Schools nationwide campaign run by the Environmental Protection Agency. Tools for Schools is a committee made up of a certified trainer, a principal, school nurse, head custodian, teachers, parents and a student liaison on the high school level, which, Leslie said, "works as the eyes of the school".
Leslie hopes to become a certified trainer in August and then she wants to train Fairfield schools on the value of a safe school, especially concentrating on the importance of high air quality within the schools. According to the EPA's Web site, www.epa.gov, Tools for Schools' goal is to "ensure a safe and healthy learning environment for millions of American school children. Reiss said all of Leslie's hard work made her a liaison to other towns in the area that were experiencing similar mold problems in their schools. "She was so committed to this" and "completely immersed herself in the importance of safety in schools."
"I look at it as a way to help other towns and other communities, to help them learn what I learned. I guess it is my way of passing along those lessons that I learned when I was dealing with the mold crisis at McKinley", Leslie said. Leslie also plays an active role in the Junior Women's Club, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to community service. According to the PTA Council press release, Leslie has participated in raising money for Fairfield and Bridgeport organizations such as Mercy Learning Center, Operation Hope, Safety Team and the Fairfield Public Library.
"I like giving back to my community. This McKinley crisis, as horrible as it was, was the Town of Fairfield's finest hour. Six schools took us in, other schools held so many fundraisers for our school. This is a very wonderful town. We are a town made up of volunteers and that, to me, is a great thing", Leslie said.
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