Manhattan Beach education advocate honored as ‘Woman of the Year’ in state capitol
Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi has witnessed firsthand what Manhattan Beach resident Leanne Huebner is capable of.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown’s announcement of a controversial education proposal spurred Beach Cities educators, parents and lawmakers into action. Under the proposal known as the Local Control Funding Formula, districts with larger populations of low-income, foster youth and English-learning students would gain the lion’s share of the state’s education funds while districts such as Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach were set on a slow eight-year trajectory to restore pre-recession base funding levels.
Huebner, who chairs the legislative advocacy group for the Manhattan Beach Council of PTAs, reached out to Muratsuchi with an idea: to organize a letter-writing and lobbying campaign across the South Bay community with the goal of ensuring that all districts, regardless of students’ socioeconomic status, would receive more funding.
After months of lobbying in the Capitol, the group inspired a compromise in the proposal, which promised more than $2 billion in base grants to restore pre-recession funding levels across all school districts.
The special ceremony, organized by the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, recognizes a remarkable woman from each district as part of Women’s History Month. Assembly District 66, one of 80 in the state, encompasses the South Bay region including the Beach Cities, Palos Verdes Peninsula and Torrance.
“I wanted to give the unsung hero some recognition,” Muratsuchi said in an interview. “She’s not a politician, she’s not the one out there getting a lot of awards, but if you need Leanne and you know her, she is a force to be reckoned with.”
Monday’s honor was the latest recognition for the mother of three, who last April was nominated as one of 12 Women of Distinction by Muratsuchi and Soroptimist International for her significant contributions to local education.
The New Jersey native wields her business background — an MBA from Harvard University and a bachelor’s from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business — to further the cause of quality education in public schools.
This journey began more than two decades ago in New York City, where Huebner, then 22, was working on Wall Street and spending her free time with foster youth in Harlem. Hoping to provide the kids with prestigious educational opportunities, she and several friends co-founded Minds Matter, a college-preparatory nonprofit which serves driven high school students from low-income communities. Today, the organization has chapters in 11 cities and a network of 1,700 volunteer mentors and has graduated more than 750 students, many of whom have proceeded onto the nation’s top universities and colleges. Huebner is the founding board vice president of Minds Matter Los Angeles, which was named Non-Profit of the Year by Los Angeles Business Journal in 2010. More than 90 percent of Minds Matter graduates obtain a bachelor’s degree.
“For me to use my business skills in an education setting, it’s just a win-win,” Huebner said. “I’m truly passionate about doing what I can as a person to give back and make the world a better place.”
Community service is a full-time job for Huebner, who is the vice president of communications and an executive board member for the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation. Last year, MBEF raised $5 million for the local school district.
“[Leanne] brings passion and creativity to our efforts,” MBEF President Nina Patel said. “She is very positive and generous with her time, and is a solution finder. It has been a pleasure to work with Leanne and to have the confidence that I can rely on her to give me objective and creative solutions to issues.”
Outside of her efforts advocating for local public education, Huebner continues to serve her alma maters. She was recently elected to the Trustee’s Council of Penn Women, a select group that focuses on women’s issues, and she serves on Penn’s Southern California Regional Advisory Board. In 2012, Huebner co-founded Penn Serves, an effort to increase local alumni engagement in community service. She also takes part in the First Generation Mentoring program for Harvard University and volunteers on the Harvard Serves Task Force.
“Fundamentally I thrive on the energy and happiness generated when helping others,” Huebner said. “That keeps me motivated for more.”
Huebner’s latest project is helping the launch of a proposed early-start charter middle school in South Gate as a founding board member. Valiente College Prep, anticipated to open doors in September 2015, is geared to serve economically disadvantaged students, she said.
To Muratsuchi, it’s her relentless ambition to ensure top-notch education for not just the local community but in various capacities that convinced him she deserved the Woman of the Year title this year.
“I can’t overstate how difficult it is to select one woman from all the amazing women in the South Bay,” Muratsuchi said. “Leanne’s work really highlights the importance of how regular folks who are not politicians or leaders of powerful organizations can make a difference through sheer drive and passion.”