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.
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.