Those who know him say Al Leonard's commitment to education and students ensures his legacy of student excellence will remain at South Pointe High School even after he retires.
"He leaves a strong foundation here at South Pointe of tradition," said Elissa Cox, principal of Saluda Trail Middle School and former assistant principal at South Pointe. "It will be difficult to fill his shoes, but I know that it’s ingrained within this building and within the staff and programs he has built here.”
Leonard, who has been principal since the high school opened in 2005, announced last month he will retire at the end of this school year.
"I wanted to leave at a time when I felt really good about where South Pointe was. People realize there are great things happening at South Pointe," Leonard said. "I feel that the infrastructure is here for the next person to come on and take it to a higher level.”
Cox said in his 30-plus years in education, Leonard has been an advocate for teacher and leadership development and for the students.
"To watch him establish traditions here in regards to excellence within academics, arts and athletics has really been a wonderful experience," she said. "It has helped to grow me professionally and many others.”
Spanish teacher Laura Johnston said Leonard has provided teachers with tools to be successful.
"He would work as hard as he could to make sure we can make things happen in the classroom for our students," she said. Johnston said Leonard would encourage students to "be the best they can be."
"You can see his love for South Pointe," Johnston said.
Students say they'll miss him.
Junior Evelyn Barrales, 17, said Leonard helped her feel safe in school and proud to be a Stallion.
“Dr. Leonard has been an amazing principal," she said. "I don’t think it can get any better than him. We greatly appreciate everything he’s done for every single one of the students at South Pointe.”
Sophomore Hayden Fowler, 16, said he always sees Leonard at school events, supporting the students.
"He's a great, involved principal," Fowler said. "It made me so proud to be a Stallion knowing he’s our leader.”
Retiring won't mean Leonard isn't a face in the crowd at South Pointe events.
"Seventy-five percent of what I own is either red or has a stallion on it," he said. "I love being an educator, it’s a part of who I am. I look forward to seeing the great things that go on at South Pointe and in the district."
Rock Hill is saying goodbye to several education leaders.
After 34 years at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, serving 15 of them as principal, James Blake will retire at the end of the school year.