Mary LeightonPhoto by Paul Neevel

Mary Leighton

The second of five children, Mary Leighton was raised on the upper floor of a “two-flat” house in central Chicago. “My grandparents lived downstairs,” she says. “The morning odor was manure from the stockyards.” Leighton attended Catholic schools through her first year of college, then transferred to the University of Chicago for a degree in sociology. She held jobs on the side while in school and afterward, then found her calling as a substitute teacher at an inner-city school, one of two white teachers at the school. “I loved teaching,” she says. “I rode a bike to school and had two great mentors.” Two years later, Leighton used earnings from a summer internship to buy a car and travel west. She fell in love in California, got married, moved to Eugene in 1974, had two children, Marty and Rose Wilde, and began doctoral studies in education. After a divorce, she and the kids moved to Maryland in 1983, where she met and married Frank Sobol, and settled in Bethesda. She finished her doctorate and worked a variety of jobs, including a year of teaching on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. When Sobol retired, Leighton applied for an advertised position as principal of Eugene’s Network Charter School. She was hired and returned to Eugene in 2006. “Rose was already here and Marty was on his way,” she notes. “I started at NCS in its fourth year.” NCS is a unique Eugene institution, a partnership between the school district and local nonprofit agencies that supply a portion of the faculty and instruction space. The four currently affiliated nonprofits are Nearby Nature, Materials Exchange Center for Community Arts (MECCA), Heartwise Community Learning Center and Le Petit Gourmet. “What Network does, better than anyone, is to show how knowledge works in the world,” says Leighton, who retired in 2013 but still represents the school in its sponsorship of the City Club of Eugene. “Teachers earn less but have fewer students and more freedom.”