Thurgood Marshall Academy founder Josh Kern
One in an occasional series about DC charter school founders.
"People Didn't Think it was Possible"
Josh Kern, Thurgood Marshall Academy
I have no recollection of actually turning in the application. I remember getting the message that we were conditionally approved. I was biking from Seattle to San Francisco. I stopped by a payphone to check my messages and there was one from the PCSB. I was literally on the side of the highway on my bicycle when I learned that my dream to open a law-themed high school in Ward 8 would become a reality.
People didn't think it was possible. I remember one person during the application process saying to me: “How are you going to have an open enrollment college prep high school in Anacostia? You¹ll have to reduce expectations for success after high school or limit enrollment to high-performing students.” I told that person – and any anyone who doubted that it was possible -- that the point of the school was to prove that it was doable.
There were a lot of doubters through those first 10 years I led Thurgood Marshall. I also remember a lot of people who were incredibly generous and supportive. I'll never forget those people who believed in all the possibilities that the school represented.
We had been open for several years and it still felt like an experiment. And then one day I watched our cheerleaders cheering on our basketball team in our newly constructed gymnasium. And it hit me, that this was a high school.
When we had cheerleaders in our gym cheering on our student athletes, the school moved from some idea that floated in my head into an institution that would continue long after me.
I ran Thurgood Marshall Academy for ten years and stepped down because the school had met and even exceeded my dreams for what we could accomplish. I wanted to create one great school and it ended up being even better than I anticipated.
Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School was approved in 2000 by the Public Charter School Board and opened in 2001 with 80 ninth grade students. Josh Kern led the school from 2001 to 2011 and planned for Alexandra Pardo, Academic Director, to succeed him as executive director. Today Thurgood Marshall Academy is the highest-achieving open-enrollment high school in the District.