Wheatley school principal’s death follow other Woodbridge tragedies

BRIDGEVILLE — Woodbridge School District, already dealing with the coronavirus crisis, is now coping with more grief and heartbreak.

The district that straddles Sussex and Kent County lines is reeling with shocking news Thursday of the sudden passing of one of its building administrators — 39-year-old Dr. Laura Leach, principal at Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in Bridgeville. She developed a blood clot that traveled to her lung.

Dr. Laura Leach

“I’m pretty numb,” said Woodbridge School District Superintendent Heath Chasanov.

“Certainly, a shock,” said Michael Breeding, Woodbridge board of education president.

News of the passing of Dr. Leach follows recent deaths of former administrative secretary Diane Carroll Jones April 16, and former teacher/administrator Walter P.J. Gilefski, a longtime Woodbridge school board member who was serving as board vice president at the time of his death on April 7.

The community, Mr. Chasanov said, is in continuous mourning.

“Grieving … we’re continuing to grieve,” said Mr. Chasanov. “We lost ‘Mr. G’ (Mr. Gilefski) several weeks ago, and a former secretary Diane Jones passed away last week, and of course the school year started off with Troy Haynes.”

Last September, Troy Haynes, who quarterbacked the Blue Raiders to two state football championships, died from kidney cancer, several months after graduating in the Woodbridge High School Class of 2019.

“It’s so very sad, people that have meant a lot to the district and done a lot for the district,” said Mr. Chasanov.

“Number one, I would say all of them served the community and certainly the Woodbridge School District exceptionally well. Great dedication out of all of them; they did a tremendous job,” said Mr. Breeding. “When we say we are family, we are family. It’s a very tight-knit school district.”

Dr. Leach was in her ninth year in the Woodbridge School District, and first year as principal at Phillis Wheatley Elementary School. She had served as an assistant principal at Woodbridge for several years prior to promotion to building principal last July.

Dr. Leach began her educational career in the Capital School District in 2002. She joined the Woodbridge School District family in 2011, teaching both regular education and special education followed by several administrative positions.

Her husband, John Leach, is a teacher in the Lake Forest School District.

Dr. Leach’s cause of death was not released.

Diane Jones

A tribute posting Friday on the Woodbridge School District Facebook page called Dr. Leach “a loved, irreplaceable friend and leader of her school and Woodbridge community. Her positive attitude and desire to be of service to others has touched us all. Death can be difficult for us to understand, especially when it is sudden.”

Zachary Huber, assistant principal at Phillis Wheatley Elementary, will serve as the acting principal, Mr. Chasanov said.

As this difficult time can be stressful and confusing for students, the Woodbridge district has arranged to have counselors available remotely to assist staff and students with the questions and grief that accompany such a difficult situation.

Ms. Jones was admissions secretary for Polytech School District, then later she was administrative secretary for the superintendent of Woodbridge School District when she retired.

Mr. Gilefski, affectionately known in the Woodbridge family as “Mr. G,” joined the Woodbridge School District in 1969 where he worked as a teacher through 1991. He served as an administrator in the district until his retirement in 2003.

In 2005, he was elected to his first term on the Woodbridge School Board. Starting in 2005, he served as a member of the Woodbridge board of education, most recently as vice president.

Walter Gilefski

“Walter started here as a teacher here, then as an administrator and then as a board member,” Mr. Breeding said. “I just can’t say enough about how he served the district for a total of little over 50 years.”

In a Facebook posting in tribute to Mr. Gilefski, Mr. Chasanov stated the Woodbridge district has lost “one of our founding fathers in Walter P.J. Gilefski. Mr. G came to Woodbridge at the beginning of our consolidation and to my knowledge is the only individual that has had a direct connection to the Woodbridge School District since our inception. He served as a teacher, administrator and board member for the district for over 50 years.”

Due to restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, memorial celebrations are under consideration for later dates.