Rashaand Sass casts a distinct figure as he walks the halls of KIPP DC KEY Academy. Personable, with an almost child-like exuberance to his gait, students stop him at nearly every turn to say what’s up, slap his hand or show him their classwork. He’s quickly become a fixture of the KEY Academy as he balances enthusiastic interactions with a certain gravitas. A gravitas not lost on Mr. Sass as the first African-American male to assume the role of school leader in at KIPP DC.
“I know I’m the first, but I won’t be the last,” he remarked. “For me, it’s about the multiplier effect. It is my job to create the most inclusive environment for the staff in my building and help them find opportunities to showcase their leadership. I am excited to help the next generation of KIPP DC leaders find their spot too.”
Before having the opportunity to lead KEY Academy as its’ principal, Mr. Sass graduated from Ithaca College as a political science major before moving to Washington, DC. He would begin his career in education as a member of the D.C. Teaching Fellows. He then transitioned to Cesar Chavez Public Charter school teaching special education, before moving to KIPP DC as a fifth-grade math teacher at KIPP DC Northeast Academy.
“Opening Northeast Academy was an incredible experience, in part because starting out I was probably the worst teacher in the building,” he recalled. “Of course, I became a better teacher with hard work, but I’ve always been able to connect with kids deeply. I think most people who’ve seen me interact with them in schools would agree. It’s part of the reason why I’m sitting in this seat. The other is my unwavering commitment to the families of Ward 7 and incredible educators in my building.”
Without question, building meaningful relationships with students leads to profound educational experiences. Being able to help KEY Academy’s educators develop and authentically engage students by listening to what they are saying has been a highlight of the 2019-20 school year.
“The best thing about being a principal is being able to teach teachers how to do the work that I love the most. I run into former students all of the time who tell me that I was ‘the best teacher they ever had,’ which always makes me laugh because I always felt like my room was on fire. But I’ve seen the right mindset, effort, and coaching transform classrooms. I want our teachers to know that they will always have access to that level of support at KEY.”
Looking ahead when asked to envision what success looks like in his first year as a school leader, he almost responds immediately. “Retaining all of my staff and having a common vision of effective Tier 1 instruction and student learning looks like in our building. The students of Southeast DC deserve lives of choice and opportunity and a Tier I middle school. If we can start to chip away the legacy of institutional racism in our country, the District and the world will be better because of it.”
Mr. Sass also has a son who is a KIPPster at Connect Academy, on the Webb Campus, where he started five years ago. As he recollects, it puts the journey toward becoming a principal in perspective. “Things have really come full-circle. I taught the daughter of my son’s teacher, and he is on the campus where I founded the middle school. I couldn’t be more proud of the work we’ve done and the work we will do.”