'He made me the person I am today': Holbrook Academy remembers Simon Letman
PUBLISHED: 16:30 15 April 2019 | UPDATED: 17:32 15 April 2019
The death of Holbrook Academy headteacher Simon Letman has left his students, staff and community in a state of shock.
The school was told of Dr Letman's sudden death, on April 13 and aged just 59, on Sunday. The staff told parents late on Sunday night, with those that knew the headteacher coming to pay their respects in a book of condolences open at the school from April 15.
Deputy headteacher Nicky Mayhew said: “It's important people know how much he loved the community and the school – we are a community school and we are all experiencing a huge loss.
“He had a clear vision for improving the school and was unrelenting in that goal.
“He was a lovely person and recognised the strengths of his staff and students. He made sure that everybody was the best they could be and it was a privilege working with him.”
Students struggling to come to terms with his death described their last interactions with the teacher; Dr Letman was teaching revision classes ahead of GCSE exam season last week and playing football in the playground on Friday.
Rebecca Bland had travelled from Ipswich with her two young children, including 11-year-old Holbrook student Alex Gayton, to sign the book and express her thanks for the time Dr Letman spent making her and her son comfortable.
Alex said: “He wasn't just a teacher, he was my friend.
“He let me help in the music department at the school open evening and he saw me play the trumpet and said I was getting better.”
Ms Bland added: “Alex has autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), so we really wanted to make sure that the school he went to was right for him.
“Simon met me more than once to take me around the school and make sure I felt comfortable.
“He saw Alex in the playground and encouraged to speak to other kids, which isn't easy for a child with ASD. We were made to feel so welcome.”
Some of the schools previous teachers returned to pay their respects as well.
Kathrine Scott had taught maths at Holbrook when Dr Letman took over the school in 2015, then in special measures.
After being offered a dream job teaching in Italy at the last minute, Dr Letman encouraged her to go and pursue the opportunity. She is now the head of Maths at Westley Middle School.
She said: “He was an authoritative figure and had such a friendly attitude with the kids. He always struck up these relationships and people wanted to work with him.
“When I went to him to tell him about the job offer he sat me down and told me that the school could find a way forward so I could pursue my passion.
“He made me the teacher and the person I am today.”
Inscriptions in the book of condolences tell the story of a teacher who went the extra mile because he cared those he met. One reads: “You transformed Holbrook into such a great high school.
“You made my experience at high school the best it could be and you were such a kind-hearted man. Thank you for everything you did.”
The loss has effected educators in the region too. Oona Carlin, headteacher at Ipswich High School in Woolverstone, said: “I am incredibly saddened by the loss of the Ipswich High School Chair of Governors, Dr Letman.
“Simon was a wonderful addition to our Governing Body as well as a personal friend and we will greatly miss his enthusiasm, experience and warmth at the school.
“My thoughts go out to his wife Sally and his family at this devastating time.”
Dr Letman became Ipswich High School's chair of governors in January 2019.
Chair of governors Louise Cullen said: “He was an outstanding headteacher and an inspirational man. He has been absolutely transformative for Holbrook. He changed its fortunes from one of the worst performing schools in the country to one of the best.
She added: “He was just such a figurehead. He was legendary to the students and I don't think there's a family in the peninsula who isn't moved and saddened by the news.”
The staff will have a personal development day together before the term starts again, letting them prepare to support the students through the grieving process. Babergh District Council will also be providing the school with support.