Founder of D.C.'s First Early Childhood Education Charter School Passes Away

Oct 3, 2016 12:00:00 AM

by Ikhlas Saleem

Lifelong educator Cassandra Pinkney passed away on Friday, September 30. In addition to being a part of our Education Post network—co-authoring a piece earlier this summer on her charter school, Eagle Academy Public Charter School—she served at the forefront of the fight for high-quality early childhood education for Washington D.C.'s children. In a press release below, Eagle Academy Public Charter School pays tribute to her legacy.
Eagle Academy Public Charter School, D.C.’s first exclusively early childhood public charter school, is heartbroken to announce that founder and executive director, Cassandra Pinkney passed away on Friday, September 30. Pinkney, a native Washingtonian, was a champion for early childhood education and made it her life's work, fighting for high-quality programs for low-income students in Washington, D.C. and Prince George’s County. “Cassandra represented the best among our city’s and nation’s educators and school leaders,” said Stefan Huh, director, charter schools program, office of innovation and improvement, U.S. Department of Education. “She created a community oriented school committed to eradicating the inequities in our society, by providing all children, regardless of background or ability, access to a quality public education and a better future. I cannot think of a better example of a school that represents the ideals of public education, and Eagle is a reflection of Cassandra’s beautiful spirit.” Working as a special education advocate during the ‘90s, Pinkney too often came face-to-face with the grim reality that children did not always receive the services they needed in order to succeed. Even when she became coordinator for Early Childhood Special Education Services for D.C. Public Schools, she was frustrated with the ability to obtain the full range of services these children needed. These kids also deserved to start learning at age 3, a critical time to develop a love for learning, just like the kids whose parents could afford private pre-K schooling. As an educator, Pinkney felt an obligation to no longer accept the status quo that was forcing disadvantaged children to start the race of life a step behind. It was then that she formed a partnership with Dr. Joe Smith, an educational research professor, to create Eagle Academy Public Charter School, which has grown to two campuses (one in Ward 6 and the other in Ward 8) and over 900 students in PreK-3 through third grade. The larger school is located in Ward 8 in what was the center of one of the highest crime and poverty rates in D.C. Pinkney’s vision in design of the building and engagement of the community was instrumental in reducing the crime rate from 1.5 crimes per day to a total of 2 last year in the same area. Pinkney knew it was important to invest in the entire child—to concentrate on the social competence, emotional well-being, and individual cognitive growth of the child in order for each child to reach their full potential and develop into a good person with a future. She insisted on building a swimming pool at the Congress Heights campus, requiring that all students learn to swim, because she knew that the research revealed that African-American children drown at a rate three times higher than their Caucasian peers. Her partner, Dr. Smith, knows she will be remembered best for her love of children and her creative genius. “Ms. Pinkney had a passion for creating educational environments in which young children thrive,” Dr. Smith said. “The quality and power of her educational vision is reflected in the success of her schools and her students and in the five architectural awards for excellence in design that her Ward 8 school received.[pullquote position="right"] Ms. Pinkney was a true leader in innovative, child-centered education.[/pullquote]”

“Ms. Pinkney’s unwavering passion and commitment was to provide a safe and nurturing environment where all children could learn, thrive and grow,” said Dr. Kerry Lewis, Chair of the Board of Eagle Academy. “She was an education visionary whose leadership, dedication and compassion will continue to be the foundation for Eagle Academy and her legacy will live in the thousands of students she taught, and the many more who will attend Eagle in the years to come.”

Ikhlas Saleem

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