Educator to retire

Achievement School founder tackled kids’ disabilities.

By Jennifer Whytock

RALEIGH, N.C. — Over 20 years ago, Leon Silber left a government job and poured all of his retirement savings into founding the Achievement School, but soon he will leave it all behind.

“After doing this for so long, I need a break,” says Silber, 64. “You leave because your job is done, and I feel that I’ve done all I can right now.”

Silber started the nonprofit Achievement School for students with learning disabilities and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in 1981, with four students and four teachers.

Under his direction, it has grown to 120 students and 30 staff.

“Without Leon, the school wouldn’t be there because he gave his life to it to make it what it is today,” says Barbara Goodmon, president of the Achievement School and the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, primary funder of the school and publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

In the 1970s, when Silber worked as chief consultant in learning disabilities for the state Department of Public Instruction, he set up classes for students with learning disabilities at schools throughout North Carolina.

Leon Silber

Born: May 10, 1939, Bronx, N.Y.

Heritage: Mother from Poland, father from Germany

Education: Gettysburg College, Pa.; University of Kentucky; University of Massachusetts

Roots for: Carolina Panthers and Hurricanes; childhood fan of N.Y. Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers.

Family status: Divorced, no children

Talents: Cooking French and Italian food; making stained glass panels.

He felt unfulfilled, though, because he could not give the classes the continued support they needed, he says, so he took all of his money and created a school where he could build his own program.

“Leon sacrificed his life for the school,” says Goodmon. “It will be hard to find someone to replace him because it has to be a very special person.”

Silber says he will miss the students, teachers and the school when he retires in September, but he will not miss the worries of developing a program and trying to make ends meet each month.

Silber wants to travel often to places like Alaska, the Greek Isles and Italy, and recently made his first trip outside the U.S. to the Ukraine.

He has bought a home in Bridgeton, across the Neuse River from New Bern, and hopes one day to open a modern art gallery there, with works from artists like Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger.

Silber also plans to write poetry and a book on learning disabilities, drawing from his experiences at the Achievement School and as a child psychologist, and he hopes to remarry soon.

“I am ready for a change in life,” says Silber. “I want to sit on the banks of the river, through a line in, and maybe catch something.”

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