Profiles in Excellence

After reviewing the awards and accolades earned by Reach teacher Lesley McClendon you might be surprised to learn that Lesley is fairly new to a career in education. Her dedication to her students and her passionate enthusiasm for presenting engaging lessons using the latest technology, belie the fact that she is a veteran teacher of only five years. 

Formerly in sales, Lesley has found her true passion in the field of education, and is currently pursuing a Masters of Education at Georgia State University.  In 2014 alone, Lesley has been selected for three highly prestigious awards including, the 2014 Distinguished Educator of the Year Award by the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust.  Lesley was also named a 2014 Georgia PBS Learning Media Digital Innovator and the 2014 Teacher of the Year at Shiloh Middle School.

At Reach for Excellence, Lesley is a language arts teacher and has created a unique curriculum that incorporates the lessons of the Holocaust, bringing the subject matter to life by complimenting classroom instruction with digital media and field excursions to the Anne Frank in the World Exhibit, and the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, as well as incorporating distinguished guest speakers. 

Lesley’s limitless energy and enthusiasm translates into Reach scholars being left with a memorable and impactful experience, making her a student and administrative favorite.  Gigi Meyers, Director of Development for Reach for Excellence comments, “Ms. McLendon has raised the standard for excellence in teaching at Reach to a new level.  We feel so fortunate to have her as part of our team, and we anticipate that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to leaving her mark.”


Arfa Rana was not simply a member of the first cohort to complete Reach for Excellence; she was also the first of three siblings to graduate from the program.

Reach taught her not only academic skills and confidence but also exposed her to new options. “I credit Reach for taking me on my first visit to a college campus,” she said. “I remember visiting Georgia Tech for the first time and feeling an overwhelming sense of belonging; I knew then that I wanted to go to Tech for college. Reach helped me find that.”

Arfa did eventually pursue her dream to attend Georgia Tech. During college she volunteered at Reach as a summer intern, where she saw from a different perspective the impact Reach has on young people. “I have seen first-hand shy, unsure sixth graders develop into confident and mature young men and women, ready for high school. Reach exposes students to academic material they will not see in a typical classroom and provides a nurturing, safe environment to develop their minds and personalities.”

She graduated in May 2011 with a BS in nuclear and radiological engineering. She currently works for Constellation Energy at their Nine Mile Nuclear Power Plant in New York.

Arfa says that Reach for Excellence has helped her determine the course of her life. “If I had not attended Reach, I don’t think I would have been able to accomplish as much as I have.”