Our Founders

Greg Jobin-Leeds, Gerry Leeds, Lilo Leeds, Maria Jobin-Leeds

Young Lilo Leeds with her parents, Sigmund and Caroline Schott.

The Schott Foundation for Public Education was co-founded in 1991 by Greg and Maria Jobin-Leeds, and Lilo and Gerry Leeds. Following the tradition of honoring our ancestors upon whose shoulders we stand, the foundation is named after Greg’s grandparents/Lilo’s parents, Caroline and Sigmund Schott, German-Jewish immigrants who escaped Nazi Germany with their daughter and built successful lives in the United States.

Greg Jobin-Leeds was Schott’s founding President and driving force throughout our first decade. Greg’s determination created and developed the Schott Foundation as a collaborative organization with a clear mission, committed staff and a strong network of partners. During Greg’s tenure, Schott helped nurture and sustain frontline organizations to lead dramatic efforts in New York and Massachusetts that won milestone victories for children and their families. Under his leadership, the Foundation developed a long-term strategy focused on systemic policy change to achieve equitable educational opportunities.

Greg has been dedicated to educational equity throughout his career, from his early experiences as an high school English teacher in Maine and Barranquilla, Colombia, to his later work in adult literacy in New York City, Boston and Central America. He is the author of WHEN WE FIGHT, WE WIN! Twenty-First Century Social Movements and the Activists and Artists that are Transforming Our World (New Press, 2016).

Lilo Leeds was a fierce fighter against injustice and a passionate champion for equity throughout her lifetime. Lilo spoke often about how that resolve was instilled in her as a young girl when she fled Nazi German and the painful signs that dictated “No Jews,” only to arrive in the United States to the pain of the Jim Crow culture of “No Coloreds.”

The Leeds and Jobin-Leeds families

Lilo and her husband, Gerry Leeds, who also had to flee Germany, were able to start promising new lives for themselves and their children in this country. Lilo’s tenacity was critical in all the family’s business ventures and she and Gerry shared an abiding devotion to social justice, including their work fighting for equitable and quality education for all. Lilo had a passion for supporting the rights of all children to have access to a high quality public education regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or zip code. The foundation stands as a tribute to her life-long work to resist injustice wherever it exists.

In 1991, Lilo turned her passion into action by working with her son Greg Jobin-Leeds to found the Schott Foundation for Public Education, in close collaboration with Gerry Leeds and Greg’s life partner, Maria Jobin-Leeds.

Maria Jobin-Leeds, a high school teacher and an AIDS activist, had worked with Greg on Central American solidarity movements, and South Africa divestment campaigns. Maria’s founding direction helped keep Schott’s work focused on bringing students, parents, teachers into policymaking and ensuring a gender and race lens in developing inclusive strategies for change. She is the founder of Access Strategies Fund which funds grassroots civic organizations to wield more power.  And she created www.mariaslist.net to provide research on viable, fairness-oriented candidates that will lead us towards a just, egalitarian society.

Gerry Leeds knew directly the brutal terror of white Aryan supremacy and the agency of escaping at age 16. Years later, after building his third company, Gerry guided Schott’s formative years using successful business principles, including two that he attributed to Tom Watson: “profound regard for the integrity of the individuals who work with you, and “tremendous attention to those you serve.”

Greg Jobin-Leeds adds an important postscript to our founders’ story: “Our effort to create a change-oriented foundation steeped in racial and social justice values was aided immeasurably by Dr. Cassie Schwerner, who had worked with Jonathan Kozol and brought both the expertise and the relationships that helped launch Schott. We are deeply grateful for her continued work and commitment to our mission.”