skip to main content

Staff Profiles

Karen Lee receives Inspiring Educator Award from Mikva Challenge DC

Karen Lee receives Inspiring Educator Award from Mikva Challenge DC

At the 2019 Mikva Challenge DC annual spring benefit, Thurgood Marshall Academy’s social studies teacher Karen Lee will receive the organization’s Inspiring Educator Award or her “incredible work to empower her students to be advocates for themselves and their community.”

Mikva Challenge DC is a nonprofit that develops the city’s youth to be empowered, informed, and active citizens. Since 2015 Thurgood Marshall Academy has been a partner school, with students participating in several citywide Mikva-sponsored events, including Project Soapbox — a public speaking competition — and the Issues to Action project.

“On a daily basis, I am in awe of the commitment, talent, love and dedication all our Mikva DC teachers bring to their work as educators, said Robyn Lingo, Executive Director. “In this crowd of impressive veteran educators, Karen stands out.”

“Every time I am in her classroom, I am impressed by her ability to engage students in meaningful, complex and thoughtful conversations about our nation’s history, teaching them how that affects their personal lives, and then leading those students to take meaningful action in their communities to address those issues.”

Ms. Lee has taught at Thurgood Marshall Academy for nine years, and her passion extends outside the classroom. In 2018 she personally guided and supported TMA students to start their own youth-led coalition for social change, called Pathways 2 Power.  Students in Pathways 2 Power students created their own PSA, held forums with key district leaders to discuss safety in their community, and have begun to plan a citywide youth summit on neighborhood violence and safety issues.

Ms. Lee will receive the Inspiring Educator Award on April 30th during Mikva Challenge DC’s Spring Benefit at the Laborers’ International Union Building. Other award recipients include DC Attorney General Karl Racine, author Sanford Horwitt, and Edward Smith, President and CEO of Ullico.

TMA Welcomes New Head of School: Q&A with Mr. Zaki

Thurgood Marshall Academy has a new Head of School for the 2018-19 school year. Abdullah A. Zaki II brings more than 20 years education experience in D.C.’s public middle and high schools, most recently serving as principal of Dunbar High School. At TMA, he will be responsible for daily instruction, curriculum development, teacher observation and feedback, academic assessments, and overall academic performance.

Why did you decide to become an educator?

I went to school to become a lawyer, but I always believed it was just as important to work with young people and help them become lawyers or whatever profession they choose. Much of my decision to become an educator was also driven by personal experiences in my neighborhood – seeing my friends who got into trouble because they didn’t have the right person in their life to steer them in the right direction. I am fortunate to be a first-generation college graduate because of positive mentors in my life.

What excites you about working at Thurgood Marshall Academy?

The school’s mission, vision and values are a perfect fit with my beliefs, and I believe working at TMA was meant to be part of my educational career journey. I am eager to be part of an organization that aligns so closely with my passion for self-advocacy and social justice.

What do you see as the primary focus for TMA this academic year?

We believe that every student can succeed at TMA, and a high priority this year is making sure this happens. We will begin by determining what practices need to be enhanced, and also have an intentional focus on the socio-emotional needs of our students. With that being said, there are a lot of great things happening here. There is no other school in the city serving the same population of students that produce the highest level of academic achievement as Thurgood Marshall Academy, and it’s something we’re very proud of.

What does success look like at the end of the academic year?

If we are deeply intentional about attending to the needs of our students; if you can see and hear adults engaging with each other to enhance their practice; and if students feel more empowered, then I believe success in these areas will lead to students scoring higher on state standards, more families wanting their students to enroll at TMA, and ultimately even more of our students attending, remaining in, and graduating from college.  

Ok, let’s learn more about you. What book are you currently reading?

Black Privilege by Charlamagne Tha God.

What motivates you daily?

Focusing on growing and improving, defying the odds to be the most effective leader I can be.

What’s in your lunchbox?

(laughs) Sadly, nothing! I’m really bad at eating throughout the day because I’m so focused with work, but I do carry a water bottle!