The unusual end of the 2019-20 school year also marked the final chapter of a storied 30-year career in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District for Mepham physics teacher William Leacock, who is newly retired.
A luminary among educators, Leacock taught Ad-vanced Placement Physics I and II and Regents Physics at Mepham High School beginning in 1989. He will be remembered for his gregariousness and the energy he brought to any room he entered.
Leacock, 59, has long known that 2020 would be his final year of teaching — his long commute from Blue Point was a major factor in his decision to retire. He did not expect, however, that a global pandemic would interrupt his curtain call.
“When I left school on March 18, I knew it would be the last time I ever left the classroom,” Leacock said. Just days later, the district shifted to remote learning to comply with Covid-19 restrictions, and last month he taught his final class via Edmodo, an education platform.
He found teaching from home “far less stressful,” he said, and adapted by keeping lessons familiar and using platforms his students already knew. He collaborated with other teachers from the New York State Master Teacher Program to create effective lesson plans. “Overall, I was pretty happy with what my kids were doing,” Leacock said. “The majority of them responded really well to the changes.”
He noted that one of the greatest challenges of remote learning was “the lack of accountability presented by pass/fail.” “Educators will always tell you that testing drives curriculum,” he said. “Remote learning is nowhere near as effective as face-to-face learning for that reason.”
Leacock said, however, he believes that educators can learn from this experience, noting the shift in granting students “more autonomy in shaping their own education” as one of the successes of remote learning. Additionally, he believes both students and teachers will develop a newfound appreciation for school once in-person classes resume.
Among the many axioms that Leacock had to offer, he summarized the essence of his wisdom in one phrase: “This too shall pass.”
A passion for physics
Leacock was born in Merrick in 1960, and his mother was an educator at Mepham in the 1950s. He briefly attended as a student, but graduated from Half Hollow Hills High School in Dix Hills. In college, he earned an engineering degree from Clarkson University, but following several years in the industry, he made what he described as the best decision of his life and switched to teaching.
Physics, he said, is “more than just my job, it’s my passion.”
Throughout his teaching career, which was spent entirely at Mepham, Leacock took a hands-on approach to learning. “I love doing wonderful demonstrations in class,” he said. “The best thing you’ll ever hear from a student is ‘do it again.’” His teaching philosophy involved engaging students’ curiosity and encouraging active participation to bring the classroom to life.
“Mr. Leacock has had a positive impact on his students and colleagues,” Mepham Principal Eric Gomez said. “Everyone at Mepham will miss Mr. Leacock, and we thank him for his years of service to the Bellmore-Merrick community,”
“I loved the hands-on and humorous approach to his class that always kept me on my toes,” said former student Mike Smith.
Leacock coached Mepham’s physics team to multiple victories at the annual Physics Olympiad competition, which is sponsored by the Long Island Physics Teachers Association. He proudly noted that his students “won almost all the time.” He has served as vice president of the association for more than 25 years, and has continued to fulfill that role in retirement.
“I love physics too much to stop,” he said.
Among his credentials, he is also a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, which recognizes a teacher’s combination of sustained and exemplary work, both in and out of the classroom.
Looking back, and ahead
Leacock spoke lovingly about his time as a teacher at Mepham High School. “Mepham has one of the best high school faculties from the administration down,” he said. “I’m proud to have taught at an absolutely phenomenal high school for so many years.”
In his retirement, Leacock takes daily three-mile walks to the beach from his home and back, and plans to continue tutoring remotely. His other hobbies include playing the saxophone, bicycling and woodworking. He hopes to travel the world with his wife, Lorraine, a retired Air Force veteran, to visit Barcelona, China and other far-off places. He also dreams of riding one of his two Harley Davidson motorcycles to America’s National Parks.