Born in 1887 at Avigliano, Italy, Leonard Covello was an educator, most known as the founder and first principal of the Benjamin Franklin High School and for his work on behalf of the children of Italian and Puerto Rican immigrants.
Leonard Covello fought to have the Italian language accepted as part of the high school curriculum in the 1920s and was the first principal of Benjamin Franklin High School (now called the Academy of Math and Science) in East Harlem. He always lived in East Harlem when it was a strong Italian community. As time went on, the population changed, and the area became a Puerto Rican community. Today the area is known as Spanish Harlem. Covello had the high school designated as a twenty-four hour school with speakers to inform the parents and students about their culture. This was not only for Puerto Ricans, but other ethnic groups who attended the high school as well. He didn’t want them to be negligent about their heritage as the Italians were when they came to America. Daniel Moynihan and Vito Marcantonio were students of the school who worked with Congressman Fiorello La Guardia for better housing and equal rights when they graduated.
Covello had been influenced early in life by the social reform ideas of Anna C. Ruddy at the Home Garden Club, and later by the more radical social activism of Norman Thomas. This, combined with his own experiences as an immigrant, influenced much of his educational theory, as well as his community development work in East Harlem.
During his years at DeWitt Clinton, Covello became increasingly aware of the need for a high school in East Harlem. From 1931 until 1934 he led a campaign to create such a high school, and in 1934 his work was rewarded with the establishment of Benjamin Franklin High School. Covello was appointed principal of the school and later became principal of James Otis Junior High School as well.
As principal of Franklin, Covello was able to implement many of the innovative theories and methods he held as to the role of the school and its place in the community, and he turned Franklin into one of the leading examples of the community-centered school. This concept, based on the recognition that the public school was the one social agency which touched nearly all families, called for almost complete interaction between the school and the community.
Covello died on August 19, 1982 in Messina, Italy.