If there’s one word that describes Leigh Mansberg, it’s energy. As the assistant head of St. Mary’s Episcopal School, Leigh is in constant motion, moving from meeting to classroom to daily chapel service to parent powwows with a pace that is rarely matched. The speed at which she moves is equaled only by the speed with which she analyzes a situation, can identify solutions or see humor in everyday life.
A native of Pine Bluff, AR, Leigh spent much of her childhood in Memphis thanks to her mother, a native of the city. She received her undergraduate degrees in English and history, and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction (the MAT — Masters of Arts in Teaching) at the University of Memphis. Leigh started her career in the early childhood program at Temple Israel, eventually choosing to focus on American literature, and bringing her passion for great American writers to the classrooms at Overton and White Station high schools. She next moved to St. Mary’s, where she taught 10th grade American literature for 15 years and served as the English department chair for 10 of those years. Leigh left the classroom in 2012 to become assistant head. She’s a married mom of two girls, and today, she’s our FACE of Memphis!
What’s your favorite work of literature, and why?
East of Eden is by far my favorite novel. While I have never had the chance to teach it, I love rereading it with our seniors and watching how the humanity in the novel touches the students. The exploration of good and evil in the story and the power of the individual to choose her path inspires me.
What is one book that you think every girl (or woman) must read and why?
Books that empower a girl’s courage to use her voice and feel confident really speak to my heart. Every woman should read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. The courage of Janie as she finds her path and comes to understand her own journey — the moments of joy and suffering that couple to define life — serve as a foundational instructional tool in my opinion in understanding a woman’s journey. On a much lighter note, I loved sharing Tina Fey’s Bossypants with my youngest daughter. Once again, it’s all about helping women find their voices … seeing it through Fey’s experience … priceless!
You moved from the classroom into administration at St. Mary’s. What were the challenges of moving from a teaching role to an administrative one?
Who knows what today will bring? In the teaching world, my life had a greater sense of order; usually, I knew what the day would bring. In administration, I might plan my day, but who knows what might come up? It’s actually what I love about the job — being able to problem solve. Every day is new and brings with it unpredicted challenges. I have been very intentional about surrounding myself with great mentors who have supported me and are my sounding boards. I think that everyone needs a support team!
Tell us about your job. What is the role of an assistant head of school?
The fun is in the details. The job of assistant head can vary by school. My two major areas of responsibility are centered on curriculum and the faculty and staff that support learning. For me, I get to work collaboratively with an amazing team of leaders in moving the curriculum of the school forward so that it strategically meets the needs of our students. I also seek out teaching talent for the school and oversee professional development for all of our faculty. The St. Mary’s community is filled with faculty and staff members who love to learn and grow; it is such a privilege to oversee the programs that give them the opportunity to do that.
What’s your favorite thing about your job and/or the school?
Number one? The children! When I get bogged down in the details of the work, I just go and work a carpool line or hang out in the hallways with the girls and talk books. All of my pockets of my coats are filled with gifts of shells and trinkets from journeys our little ones have been on that they brought back just for me; I am always so honored!
Number two, discovery! St. Mary’s is a place where children and grown-ups of all ages love to discover and try new things — when I get to be a part of that — for sure my favorite experience.
Do you ever have the chance to go back into the classroom?
Not as much as I would like, but I love when I am a guest speaker in chapel or reader in the classroom.
Are you involved in community organizations?
I have been involved in Reach Memphis for several years now and have spent a lot of time working with the Jay Uiberall Scholars program for them. Teaching promising children from all over the city how to write and prepare for college with that writing is a privilege. I am very proud as well to serve on the Board of Trustees at Temple Israel as their secretary.
What are your hobbies, and how do you unwind?
Yoga, yoga, yoga. I have studied with Janet Katz for the last six years, and I love how it has made me smarter and more confident in my own body. I think it is a huge gift for a woman to grow in appreciation of how her body is made and how it works in space. I am also an emerging runner and find all of my inspiration for running at St. Jude. I adore working in my kitchen and love to bake pretty complicated recipes; I am never bored when I am exploring in the kitchen.
Where’s the first place you take an out-of-towner when they come to visit you in Memphis?
I always want my guests to feel the heart of our city — it starts with the river and the Civil Rights Museum — so much of our history is defined there.
What’s your favorite Memphis attraction and why?
Summertime and music — nothing better than a concert at Overton Park and a great picnic!
Finish this sentence: If I had a superpower, it would be ___________.
The speed of Hermes — the Flash. People always make fun of me for how fast I walk, but I love to move quickly from one place to another.
What one word describes you?
Strategic. I am a planner!
What inspires you?
Play and the opportunity to be creative!
What’s your best piece of advice for others?
Listen and collaborate. It’s way more fun and effective to move forward when you have partners ready to support your team’s vision and dream big with you.
What are three lighthearted things you can’t live without excluding faith, family and friends?
One, coffee is ritual for me. I am a Memphis food snob — LOCAL is better! Next, Audible is my friend — I love to be well-read, but don’t always have time to read all of the most modern releases. I run and listen. Three, I adore the Grizzlies and the Tigers, but I am way too competitive and can hardly ever watch the last two minutes of a game. I love to win, and I LOVE Memphis basketball!
Thank you to Micki Martin for today’s beautiful photographs of Leigh.
Want to meet more inspiring Memphis women? Click here to check out the FACES archives.