Thurgood Marshall Academy senior Markus Batchelor already has the polish and poise of a career politician. At 18, he’s served as D.C. Youth Mayor and is finishing his second term as TMA student body president. He’s now looking at a seat on the D.C. Democratic State Committee, and is without a doubt the first announced candidate for the 2022 mayoral race.
Batchelor also showed at Thursday evening’s 11th annual TMA gala that, like a seasoned political pro, he knows how to ask for money.
“We’re the best investment you’ll ever make,” he said of his senior classmates at the Ward 8 school, the highest performing open enrollment high school in the city. All 50 are bound for destinations ranging from Georgetown to Penn State to the University of Vermont. Batchelor isn’t straying far from his political base. He and his best friend, Moo Ho Bae II, are both recipients of the full-ride Stephen J. Trachtenberg Scholarship to George Washington University.
Thursday was also a moment of transition for TMA. Joshua Kern, the school’s co-founder and president, announced that he was stepping down. Academic director Alexandra Pardo, who Kern describes as “wicked smart,” will succeed him.
“For me this is a mountaintop moment,” said Kern, who began the school a decade ago in the basement of Congress Heights United Methodist Church. At one point he was close to losing his lease and looking at sites on the other side of the river when he reached out to Vincent C. Gray, then executive director of Covenant House. Gray, who spoke at the gala, urged him to find a way to stay where he was.
“I remember the conversation like it was yesterday,” Kern recalled in a recent interview. “He said, ‘You know, Josh, a lot of people come to Ward 8 to do the kind of work you’re doing, but they pack their bags and leave. If you really want to make a difference here, you need to stick it out, even if you have to close up for a year.”
Kern stuck with it, and built a school that is producing graduates like Batchelor and Bae, a poet who says he’s also committed to managing his friend’s future political campaigns.
“There’s going to be a long line of us,” Bae said.
Leadership transitions are perilous for any school, especially so for charters. Even Pardo said “very few charter schools survive this rite of passage” to the second generation with their quality intact. But she seems up to the challenge. She’s also not shy about asking for money. Before she was done with inaugural speech as head of the school, she gave the crowd a bit of a jolt by asking them to slip some money for TMA into their wills.