Thurgood Marshall Academy names Richard Pohlman Interim Executive Director

WASHINGTON — Thurgood Marshall Academy’s Board of Trustees announced that Richard Pohlman has been named as the school’s Interim Executive Director.

Mr. Pohlman is an experienced leader with more than a decade of experience in the Washington, D.C., education, legal, and policy sectors. He is currently serving as the Chief of Operations and Policy at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, overseeing the daily operations and budgets across three schools, and served as its Acting Head of School with the departure of founder Jennie Niles. He previously worked at the Office of the State Superintendent of Education as a legal advisor. Prior to his work there, he was a Presidential Fellow at the United States Department of Education. He also has classroom experience working with upper elementary and middle school students.

Mr. Pohlman will be the school’s third Executive Director since its founding in 2001, succeeding Alexandra Pardo, who worked at the school for nine years and served as its Executive Director since 2011. Since its founding in 2001, Thurgood Marshall Academy has become one of the highest-performing high schools in the District. The school boasts a 100% college acceptance rate, and its alumni graduation rates exceed the national average.

“We are thrilled that Rich has agreed to join TMA.  With his extensive experience and dedication to public education, Rich will ensure the school continues to fulfill its mission,” said Kannon Shanmugam, Chair of the Board.  “I am grateful to the staff and leadership of the school for their participation in the search process and for their help in bringing that process to such a successful conclusion. On behalf of the Board and staff, I also want to thank Alexandra for her service as Executive Director.”

Ms. Pardo will continue in her current role through August 14.  Mr. Pohlman will start at TMA in his new role on August 17.


About Thurgood Marshall Academy: Founded in 2001, Thurgood Marshall Academy’s mission is to prepare students to succeed in college and actively engage in our democratic society. Thurgood Marshall Academy is an open enrollment public charter high school in Ward 8’s Anacostia. It is one of the highest performing non-selective high schools in the District and serves 400 students. The school upholds Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s legacy of equal opportunity through its commitment to providing an excellent education for all students.

A Journey from Average to Great: Aris’ Story


Aris Morrison, Class of 2010

Thurgood Marshall Academy is proud of its 100% college acceptance rate among graduating seniors. To carry on this 11-year tradition, the College Counseling office works strategically with students to guide them along the application process. The efforts ensure that seniors apply for schools in three specific buckets: reach, target, and safety. Aris Morrison (TMA ‘10) remembers being introduced to this idea in Senior Seminar, a required course for 12th graders. He learned that reach schools were more competitive to gain acceptance into and target schools are often a student’s top choice because they meet the standards in most, if not all, of the required areas. However, the class lesson became a life-lesson when Morrison realized he identified with students more likely to be accepted into safety schools, colleges or universities for students who have not performed well academically.


Students Transform into World Leaders During Trip to Spain & Morocco

Five Thurgood Marshall Academy students ignited their passion for cultural enrichment when they signed up for an intensive 18-month long program with the Global Scholars Foundation (GSF). GSF is dedicated to transforming District youth, many of whom are first generation college students and residents of DC’s most underserved Wards, into culturally competent world travelers.

After identifying students who have expressed interest in learning a foreign language and exploring a new culture, GSF introduces them to the language and cultural practices of the country they will travel in the summer. This year, after five students in the sophomore and junior classes persisted through the enrichment programs provided by GSF throughout the year, they joined their peers from neighborhood schools for a 12-day exploration throughout Spain and Morocco.

Our students’ participation in the program aligns with Thurgood Marshall Academy’s two-part mission that prepares students to succeed in college and actively engage in our democratic society. Not only have these students excelled academically, but their desire to delve into issues that provide the opportunity to be world leaders is impressive. The experience, according to GSF, is intended to open local teens’ eyes to the world as they know it and open their minds to the global world of which they belong.

The journey started off in Spain where the students went on a guided tour in some of the country’s famous and historic cities including Madrid, Seville, and Andalucía. In Madrid, the group enjoyed a panoramic city tour and got up close and personal with The Royal Palace, Cibeles and Neptuno Fountains, and other attractions.


Darrius Cook (right), 2015 GSF Scholar

“Madrid feels like a foreign New York, and I love that,” said Darrius Cook, 11th grader at Thurgood Marshall Academy. “My favorite part of the trip so far is the tour of the Mosques and Jewish Quarter. It was out of this world. The architecture of the buildings, the halls, and the pillars were breathtaking.”

In Seville, students brushed up on their dancing skills during an interactive Flamenco tour. Andalucía led students to Ronda just before they made way to Costa Del Sol where they boarded a Ferry that took them into Morocco. Keeping Thurgood Marshall Academy’s goal to prepare students for college at the center of the trip, students visited the oldest existing, continually operating and the first degree awarding university in the world, located in Fes, Morocco.


Thomas Dabney, 2015 GSF scholar

While all the students were fascinated with the cultured and historical landmarks and attractions, some students were able to reconnect with loved ones. “I am excited to continue traveling. In Morocco, I hope to see my Uncle Moe. He lives in Rabat,” said Thomas Dabney, rising senior at Thurgood Marshall Academy.

For more of our students’ reactions to and experiences from Spain and Morocco, read their travel blog online at:   




Thurgood Marshall Academy Received National Media Coverage in Politico Magazine

Politco Mag

Read more.

Politico Magazine spotlights Thurgood Marshall Academy in “You’re Not Going to Give Up,” an informative piece that showcases the evolution of the Charter School movement in Washington, DC.

The article is part of a larger series titled “What Works” and features Thurgood Marshall Academy alumni, dedicated volunteers, the organizer of the unique Law Day program, and other key staff and faculty. Co-founder of the school, Josh Kern, even addresses the naysayers who attempted to corrupt his vision – to open a high school to any student and have them prepared to be successful in college.

Under the current leadership of Executive Director Alexandra Pardo, Thurgood Marshall Academy underwent a vast transformation that is relived in the article. Pardo and Kern candidly uncover lessons learned and the challenges they faced on the way to meeting and exceeding their goals. Today, students’ success is no longer confined to a small corner of DC, but to a much broader context that shapes their academic journeys.

Check out our favorite tidbits from the article, which explores Thurgood Marshall Academy and delves into the Charter School movement that started almost 25 years ago.

  • Thurgood Marshall Academy is located in Anacostia, one of the most underserved areas of Washington, D.C.
  • D.C. today stands out because a whopping 44 percent of all its public school students—36,565 young people in 112 schools—are enrolled in charter schools, the highest state percentage in the nation.
  • The hallways [in Thurgood Marshall Academy] are hushed. There are no jangling PA announcements, no clanging bell to mark the end of class, no metal detectors at the front door.
  • At Thurgood Marshall Academy, 100 percent of the school’s graduates are accepted into college. And two-thirds of those students finish college, a rate that is higher than the national average.
  • The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in an October 2014 report monitoring the health of public charter schools in terms of growth, innovation and quality, ranked D.C. number one in the nation.
  • Thurgood Marshall Academy graduates have gone on to—and graduated from—Bates, Temple, the University of Vermont, the University of Virginia, the University of Wisconsin and dozens of other universities.
  • Thurgood Marshall Academy has had the highest test scores among open-enrollment public schools.
  • Thurgood Marshall Academy’s teachers average about seven years of teaching experience, and 80 percent of them have graduate degrees.
  • TMA graduates go on to finish college within five years at a rate of 65-68 percent in comparison to the national college graduation rate within five years of 55 percent.
politico2 Photos by: Mark Peterson/Redux Pictures for Politico Magazine

Read more and see our students in action in the interactive gallery featured with the article.

Juniors Have Law Firm Tutoring to Thank for Success

P1020574Now that most students are home for the summer, they have time to reflect on some of the achievements that they’ve accomplished this past school year.

Juniors who were promoted are preparing for senior year. They forged through a challenging curriculum that included SAT preparation, AP and Honors courses, and portfolio presentations. Among the extra supports that keep students on track at TMA, juniors have the opportunity to get additional guidance alongside lawyers during bi-weekly Law Firm Tutoring.

An after-school program built into Thurgood Marshall Academy’s law-themed curriculum, Law Firm Tutoring is an enrichment activity that gives 11th graders access to knowledgeable legal professionals who help them apply legal skills to their school work and civic engagement efforts. The seasoned lawyers, all of whom work one-on-one with students, exhibit and apply the same legal skills that students are required to implement throughout their academic performance.

Pairing students with like-minded professionals ensures that they develop and learn the skills that lawyers have – the ability to solve complex problems, think critically, and advocate persuasively. Students come prepared to go over classwork, edit college essays, research scholarship opportunities, or talk about current events and other topics they discover they have in common with tutors.

P1020575“Even though they [law firm tutors] are intellectuals, they are easy to gel with and will help break you out of your shell,” said Jibri Tucker, 11th grader. “I see Law Firm Tutoring as a good experience because law firm tutors encourage students to pick up the slack – if there is any. They really care.”

This school year, six law firms participated in the program and provided public support to the junior class. Each tutor imparted not just academic knowledge, but sound advice that can guide college and career choices and student efforts to serve our democratic society.


  • Blank Rome
  • Crowell & Moring
  • Jenner & Block
  • King & Spalding
  • Vinson & Elkins
  • Williams & Connolly

Community Service Matters: Keosha’s Story


Keosha Lamberson, Class of 2010

Keosha Lamberson didn’t imagine that a service trip to Louisiana, Mississippi, and other southern states where residents were barely making ends meet would be an eye-opening experience that would shape her future in bringing about community change. Lamberson, who was just 14-years-old at the time, was a freshman at Thurgood Marshall Academy and struggled to put forth the effort required to succeed. However, the service trip gave her the ‘focus’ she needed to get back on track by the time she graduated from Thurgood Marshall Academy in 2010.


Class of 2015 Graduates Are ‘Conquerors’ Who Won’t Accept Defeat


Art Teacher Nafeesah Symonette leads the graduates

On June 12, Thurgood Marshall Academy celebrated seniors’ academic success and applauded their 100% college acceptance during the 10th annual graduation. More than 800 guests, family and friends, and faculty and staff gathered at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church to honor students who were awarded over $4 million in scholarships.


Faith Hudson and Anthonya James, Class of 2015 salutatorian and valedictorian

Senior Anthonya James, class of 2015 valedictorian, was named the 2015 Milken Scholar and received $10,000 toward college tuition. High-performing senior, Faith Hudson, who was the class’ salutatorian, was awarded the Stephen J. Trachtenberg Scholarship and will attend The George Washington University in the fall. Keneon Williams, who earned the second-highest SAT score on the critical math and reading sections, will attend University of Rochester on a Gates Millennium Scholarship, which will also cover his graduate degree. Herbert Tillary, Executive Director of the College Success Foundation, presented a check of $1.45 million to 29 seniors awarded the DC Achievers Scholarship, which funds up to $50,000 in annual tuition costs.

DSC_2762A number of seniors received scholarships from Press Pass Mentors, an organization affiliated with The Washington Post that serves charter school students in southeast Washington, DC. Mentors are paired with students and work together on a curriculum that prepares them for major writing assignments they will tackle as college students.


Angel Haythe, a talented senior who recently performed in a singing competition at the Kennedy Center, led the senior class in a dynamic rendition of ‘Conqueror’ from the FOX hit TV show, “Empire.” The audience sung along to the popular tune while seniors swayed from left to right, relating to the meaningful lyrics.

After students were presented with their diplomas, they joined their loved ones and other proud Thurgood Marshall Academy supporters for refreshments.


Photos by: Joshua A. Washington

A New Era On the Horizon for Thurgood Marshall Academy

Thurgood Marshall Gala 2015 - Hi Res-99-3937

Alexandra Pardo began her journey at Thurgood Marshall Academy nine years ago as the Academic Director before being promoted in 2011.

In her final weeks as Executive Director at Thurgood Marshall Academy, Alexandra Pardo reflects on her role and offers advice to the next leader.

Q: What drew or attracted you to work at Thurgood Marshall Academy?

A: The opportunity to work with a team of committed educational leaders and teachers who were focused on improving student learning and outcomes was definitely a draw. The school community had the tenants necessary to move the needle forward on school achievement. Most importantly, I was drawn to the mission and the fact that Thurgood Marshall Academy is Washington, DC’s first and only law-themed public charter high school. 

Q: What accomplishments are you most proud of (in your time here)?

A: Our students’ success is no longer confined to a small corner of DC, but to a much broader context that shapes their academic journeys. When student test scores became the focus as pressures from No Child Left Behind ensued, we stuck to our core beliefs in educating students to succeed in college. We chose not to center our curriculum on rote memorization and drill-and-kill exercises to obtain small bumps in our scores. Instead, Thurgood Marshall Academy pursued long-term outcomes, emphasized student-centered instruction, and pushed critical thinking skills through project-based work. State test scores improved remarkably. Our students began outperforming their peers on Advanced Placement tests, SAT tests, and just about every other area. But our outcomes didn’t start or end there. While early on our students were accepted to college, they were not always completing their degree. Today, two out of three alumni are graduating from college outperforming national and local metrics for college graduation. I can look back and say our students are living our mission.

Q: Thurgood Marshall Academy wasn’t always a Tier 1 school; what would you attribute to the school’s eventual success as Tier 1?

A: Each year and each semester, we reflect. As a team, we evaluate what works and what doesn’t. We’re an incredibly mission focused organization. Therefore, we always apply our mission when we try new things to ensure that our students thrive. When I first came to Thurgood Marshall Academy, schools were not under much pressure to perform on external metrics. This is the main reason why we hire dedicated faculty who boldly own their outcomes and the outcomes of their students. Because they are not afraid to make changes while keeping the mission at the forefront, they continue to prepare students academically.

Thurgood Marshall Gala 2015 - Hi Res-52-3744

Alexandra Pardo and Josh Kern, TMA Founder and former Executive Director.

Q: As Thurgood Marshall Academy celebrates its 15th year, what areas have grown the most and what goals would you like to see accomplished in the next 15 years?

A: It would be an honor to see Thurgood Marshall Academy replicate and serve more high school students. The number of quality high schools on both sides of the river is still very small, making educational resources scarce and college preparatory institutions even more competitive to access than before. We know that in Ward 8 alone, the low number of high school and college graduation rates is alarming. But Thurgood Marshall Students are not only getting accepted to college, but over 90% of them enroll within the first year and persist through from freshman year to sophomore year. I’d love to see Thurgood Marshall Academy go across the river and increase the number of quality seats because of this proven success rate. It is a model that ensures students on both sides of the river defy the odds.

Q: What advice would you give the next leader?

A: Believe in the students, uphold the mission. Be guided by the founding principles. Thurgood Marshall Academy’s success is not about one person – it is a culture driven by every individual in the building. I have always believed that school success and student achievement are only possible with a professional, dedicated, and smart faculty and staff. During my time at Thurgood Marshall Academy, I prioritized bringing together like-minded, determined, and passionate individuals and provided them with the resources and creative freedoms they needed to excel. This should be very much important to the next leader. Faculty and staff are the reason why Thurgood Marshall Academy has had such a remarkable track record of achievements.

Underclassmen Years Pave the Way for College: Keneon’s Story

Keneon Williams has taken and passed every Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) course offered at Thurgood Marshall Academy (TMA). It’s no wonder why his G.P.A is a 4.2 and he’s on his way to University of Rochester this fall on a full scholarship. Excelling in AP Government, AP Language, AP Literature, AP Calculus, and scoring the second highest in the senior class on the critical math and reading sections of the SAT, Williams has proven that academic excellence is within reach.

“Even though you have the support of teachers and staff [at TMA], it’s all on you,” said Williams. “You have to work hard and put your energy and effort into the right things in order to achieve. Just because teachers allowed me to turn work in late, I practiced submitting work on time because, in the real-world, I won’t always have that flexibility,” said the wise 17-year-old.

Since freshmen year, Williams focused heavily on his academic performance knowing that the end result of success would be college. “Ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade are important because colleges closely review your grades from those years. Based on those findings, colleges then determine how you will perform as a student,” he said.

Keneon (left) leads a chemistry demonstration during TMA’s Shining Start Gala.

Williams is one of seven students in Washington, DC to receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship (GMS), which can be used to pursue a degree in any undergraduate major and selected graduate programs at accredited colleges or universities. This scholarship is dedicated to removing the financial barriers to education for high-performing, low-income students. Williams, who is among 96% of TMA students who live in DC’s most underserved communities, plans to double major in Biochemistry and Linguistics but is open to exploring different interest areas during his college career.

Williams joined a number of University of Rochester Facebook groups to meet fellow classmates of 2019. His goal is to make a seamless transition of going from a school where he knows everyone to a university where he will have to adjust to a new environment. Though he’ll be new to the University of Rochester, Williams is no stranger to college. In fact, he earned college credit during a dual enrollment program at the University of the District of Columbia Community College.

Williams, the second in his family to go to college, follows the example of his older sister. However, he admits that had it not been for the College Counseling Office at TMA, he wouldn’t have been as informed about extended resources and scholarship opportunities that will pay for his entire college career.

“I finished high school and I am going to college without having to take out any loans,” he said with gratitude. “The college counselors [at TMA] always have their doors open and provide so much support,” he ends.

TMA Executive Director Pens Open Letter to Graduates

IMG_5438Dear Class of 2015,

On behalf of the entire Thurgood Marshall Academy community – the students, faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees – I congratulate you. You should be very proud of your hard work, academic progress, dedication to success, and your biggest achievement yet – high school graduation.

Today, take a moment to reflect on the grades you earned, the impact you made, the relationships you built, and the obstacles you faced along the way. Simply put – you are all shining stars. In order to keep your light shining bright, move boldly toward your future and work to achieve even greater milestones that lie ahead.

Lately, you all have been tackling the tasks of graduating seniors – college applications, AP testing, portfolio presentations, and class finals. Since your freshmen year, you have traveled quite a journey to get to this very point. You leave behind your contribution to Thurgood Marshall Academy’s legacy. It is bittersweet. But you are not alone.

I, too, just like you, am embarking on a new phase. As many of you know, this is my last year at Thurgood Marshall Academy. This graduation gives me a humbling opportunity to witness Thurgood Marshall Academy’s tradition of academic achievements through every one of you. As you walk across the stage and bask in warm congratulations from loved ones, I am confident that you will gracefully transition into a new beginning because of the support that you received from Thurgood Marshall Academy.

There is not one Thurgood Marshall Academy staff member who does not believe in you and your ability to change lives and inspire future generations. However, your commitment to your community does not end when you have a diploma in hand. Because Thurgood Marshall Academy has prepared you for college and to actively engage in our democratic society, you can expect doors of opportunity to open wide. But, it will be up to you to walk through the door.

You will go on to join a dedicated group of alumni, all of whom share your story of academic excellence, good citizenship, and Warrior pride.

Best wishes and continued success in the journey ahead,

Alexandra Pardo, Ed.D
Executive Director