My First ‘Official’ Day as a Student: Malia’s Story

Malia McMillian is settling into her new role as a freshman but her journey at TMA started more than a decade ago. Two of her older brothers attended Thurgood Marshall Academy. Her mother, Zabrina Ames, has been on staff at TMA for 11 years, serving as Project Associate for Student Support Services. To TMA faculty and staff, McMillian is simply Ms. Ames’ daughter.

“I was basically raised at this school,” said McMillian. “All the teachers are family. That’s why TMA is the school for me,” she says.

P1020635Today, McMillian is an official TMA Warrior. Over the summer, she joined more than 100 of her peers for Summer Prep, a six-week program that prepares incoming students for the TMA culture, both academically and socially. Students are brought up to speed in math and reading and delve into TMA’s law-themed curriculum during law day at Wiley Rein LLP, TMA’s summer law firm partner.

“The best part about Summer Prep was the field trips and enrichment activities,” she said. “They prepared me for the regular school year,” said McMillian, who is looking forward to Clubs Day—the day of the year when students can sign up for extra-curricular activities. “I’m excited about playing volleyball and joining the new dance team,” she says. “I plan on participating in the Debate Club because I’m a very argumentative person.”

McMillian is no stranger to the work ethic required to balance school work, sports, and other fun hobbies. She learned from her brother, Malik (TMA ‘15), who made school history last year as the first TMA student to be accepted into college on a full athletics scholarship. Malik’s accomplishment taught her that she “has to keep her head in the books.” So while McMillian plans to explore a number of enrichment activities that TMA has to offer, her main goal, she says, is “to not allow anything to take my focus off of my school work.” McMillian, whose favorite subject is History, hopes to earn a B or higher in all of her classes.

Thurgood Marshall Academy not only provides students with a college preparatory curriculum, but the school is unique in its mission to prepare students to actively engage in our democratic society. McMillian’s recent encounter with Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced her to the school’s law-themed approach that teaches students to advocate for themselves and others. McMillian was proud to help Mayor Bowser launch the DC Kids Ride Free program, an expanded initiative that allows students to ride the Metrorail to and from school for free.

“The Kids Ride Free program benefits me and my peers because now kids no longer have to worry about the financial struggle of having to pay to get to school,” she said. “Now they can save money for important needs like school supplies and college,” she ends.



Upcoming School Year Embraces New Leadership, Classes, and Clubs

Thurgood Marshall Academy photographs by Stephen Voss.Now that summer vacation has come to an end, Thurgood Marshall Academy is looking forward to an exciting school year, an energetic freshmen class and revitalized upperclassmen, and a unique law-themed curriculum that is coupled with college preparatory course work. It’s August 24th, and hallways are flooded with nearly 400 students and more than 30 teachers.

During these recent hot summer months, though, the leadership team didn’t cool off. Instead, Thurgood Marshall Academy faculty and staff forged ahead to ensure that the upcoming school year would be nothing short of successful.

Faculty and staff, including all grade-level Deans and Thurgood Marshall Academy’s new interim Executive Director, Richard Pohlman, welcomed students upon entry. After receiving their name badges, students journeyed off to their homeroom class, where they compared their class schedules with each other.Thurgood Marshall Academy photographs by Stephen Voss.

This school year, faculty will continue to have the support of former Instructional Coach, Kena Allison, who was promoted to interim Head of School. In this expanded role, she will work closely with new and seasoned teachers to provide academic leadership and support in a myriad of ways that ensure they grow as dynamic educators. Ms. Allison will work alongside Thurgood Marshall Academy’s new Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Bridget Abbas. Ms. Abbas has already provided a wealth of knowledge during Thurgood Marshall Academy’s intense Teacher Academy, where she led a number of workshops that explored learning approaches that better support students.

“I think that new leadership is a great thing,” said Ms. Allison. “It will bring new answers and ideas for those ongoing questions and struggles our students face.”

While a vast percentage of teachers are returning to Thurgood Marshall Academy, the school went on to invite new talent to its campus to teach courses just added to the curriculum. This year, juniors and seniors will have a rare opportunity to enroll in AP Statistics, AP Chemistry, and Global Studies.

To reinforce what students learn in the classroom, Thurgood Marshall Academy offers enrichment programs and extra-curricular activities that students can partake in after-school. Brandelyn Anderson, who was promoted to Director of Programs, is slated to host the upcoming Clubs Day, which gives students an opportunity to sign up for such programs. Most popular and recurring clubs include Green Club, Happy Black Girls (HBG), Debate Team, and more. But this year, Ms. Anderson is looking forward to introducing new clubs.

Over the summer, incoming freshmen and sophomores participated in Thurgood Marshall Academy’s Summer Prep, a 6-week program designed to get new students acclimated to the school’s culture. Rising juniors and seniors “went global” and explored famous attractions while abroad in Costa Rica, Morocco, Spain, and Tanzania. Other students dedicated the vacation to making up course work during Summer School, while others enjoyed internships and summer youth employment. Most students, though, enjoyed a slow-paced vacation in anticipation for back to school.


When a Student Becomes a Teacher: Alicia’s Story


Alicia on graduation day from University of Texas at Austin

Faculty and staff at Thurgood Marshall Academy continue to rave about Alicia Hargrove (TMA ‘10) and her many accomplishments. She graduated from the University of Texas, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in History. But it was a teaching position in Mexico that prepared her for a role at TMA. Now that the tables have turned—and Hargrove is the teacher and not the student—she embraces the ability to impact young people’s lives. In fact, she’s been on staff at Thurgood Marshall Academy since 2014, serving as a long-term substitute teacher and Programs Associate.


Teachers & Students Benefit from Professional Development Opportunities


In 2013, Kena Allison was awarded $25,000 from the Milken Family Foundation for her stellar performance as an educator.

At Thurgood Marshall Academy, the beginning of each school year starts with Teacher Academy, an intensive, two-week training that provides time for all teachers to collaborate among departments and grade levels for curriculum design and implementation. The Academy is in full swing, and new and seasoned teachers alike work together in professional learning circles that improve their work in the classroom.

In this Q&A, Thurgood Marshall Academy’s Head of School, Kena Allison, shares how Teacher Academy is a resource that helps teachers develop and prepare for the upcoming school year. She goes a step further, though, to shed light on how the program and other professional development opportunities for educators are influential tools in the success of our students.

  1. One may automatically assume that Teacher Academy is a resource that only teachers and faculty can benefit from. But please share how Teacher Academy ensures that our students succeed.

During Teacher Academy, teachers are given opportunities to learn new instructional strategies and revise curriculum materials. The only reason we do this is to better educate students. The underlying goal is to ensure that when students return to Thurgood Marshall Academy they will have a refreshed curriculum and learning plan to look forward to. It keeps their learning and classroom experience invigorating and challenging. Teacher Academy tasks educators to present refreshing ideas, share teacher peer-to-peer feedback, and create new concepts that are sure to keep our students on the course to academic success.

  1. What are some initiatives built into this year’s Teacher Academy that were developed to help teachers perform better in the classroom?

Bridget Abbas, Thurgood Marshall Academy’s new Director of Curriculum and Instruction, is leading a session on “close reading,” which will equip teachers with strategies that help students navigate difficult text. This training will directly translate into a classroom lesson that each teacher will develop and introduce to students within the first few weeks of school. Last year, approximately 75% of new students performed on a 7th grade academic level. Therefore, Thurgood Marshall Academy is compelled to design strategies that improve student performance and reading skills. The specific session on “close reading” gives teachers in all departments, not just English, the opportunity to learn the procedure and plan a lesson that reinforces what they learned.

  1. What can other schools learn from TMA’s Teacher Academy model?

TMA’s Teacher Academy model is a lot more complex than a simple, two-week training for every teacher in the building. Instead, the Academy, and the time that goes into it, is critical for sharing updates and changes, and providing adequate prep time before students arrive. More importantly, it gives us time for team-building and a platform to identify our strengths and areas in need of growth. Essentially, Teacher Academy is a reflection of the focus and value that TMA puts on planning, collaborating, and professional development.

  1. Tell us more about Professional Development opportunities and how they empower teachers throughout the year.

I’ve learned that teachers work with students because we want to be lifelong learners. It’s important to remember that different generations of students learn differently, become interested in new and trending topics, and are eager to explore learning in reformed and modern ways. Even the most effective lesson becomes tedious after five years. Therefore, educators, whether seasoned or new to the classroom, must be willing to learn and adapt their teaching styles to better engage students. As such, teachers who partake in professional development opportunities are only embracing their desire for personal growth. Professional development affords educators the space to think outside of the box and integrate new strategies, better understand new standards, or experiment with new technology. The learning process through professional development is igniting for educators and empowers them to return that energy to students.

  1. As the former Instructional Coach and now Head of School, what have you seen first-hand that inspires teachers to go beyond the call of duty?

Institutional support and collaboration among leadership and colleagues inspire teachers to go beyond the call of duty.  All teachers work for students. But when the school does not support genuine efforts that teachers put forth for students, it’s possible for teacher passion and motivation to dwindle. Strong educators value frequent observations and feedback. They want the students to achieve and those around them to be on the same page to make that achievement a reality. TMA works to maintain that balance.

  1. How does TMA challenge teachers?

We are constantly asking, “how do we make that better?” and “why are students not improving with…?” Likewise, we are always conversing about what works and what doesn’t. Finally, the students and community challenge us. TMA is the go-to college school, but many students entering TMA are not on grade level—academically or socio-emotionally—when they arrive. As such, teachers face the challenge to close those gaps.

  1. What is your advice to new and returning teachers?

Remember that students are human beings who want relationships and are eager to learn from teachers who set high expectations. Don’t give up on them. Instead, make it your priority to support them when they struggle and want to give up.

  1. Now celebrating 15 years, tell us how this year at TMA may be different for teachers.

There is a lot of new leadership in the building—a new Executive Director, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and I’ve recently taken on the role as Head of School. Like all things new, change is good and I think that new leadership is a great thing. It will bring new answers and ideas for those ongoing questions and struggles our students face. Logistically, teachers will work with a new lesson plan template and may see minor changes in the evaluation system; however, the change that I think will be most valued from the new members of the TMA community is a new energy and the same steadfast commitment to our mission.


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.