Cassandra Smith Pinkney
On September 30, 2016, this strong woman of faith and education visionary transitioned into eternity at Prince George’s Hospital Center, Cheverly, Maryland. Cassandra Smith Pinkney (affectionately known as Sam) was born in Washington, DC on July 29, 1948 to the late LeeNora Tabb Stewart and Leslie James Smith, Sr. During her formative years, Cassandra attended with her mother and Aunt Odie, Sargent Memorial Presbyterian Church. Her son, DelRico Tyrone Durham, preceded her in death. Cassandra was educated in the District of Columbia Public School System.
At an early age, Cassandra had a passion for children and envisioned that when she became an adult, she would become a mother and have twelve children. After becoming the proud mother to her son, DelRico, who was a student with special needs she realized that her passion was in early childhood education.
Ms. Cassandra Pinkney’s Impressive Career
Mrs. Pinkney began her career in the Prince George’s County Public School System as an educational aide. She went on to earn a Master’s degree in Early Childhood, Special Education, and Human Development from George Washington University and an undergraduate degree from Howard University. Mrs. Pinkney later served as the Coordinator for Early Childhood Special Education Services for DCPS.
Mrs. Pinkney also worked for several years at Howard University Hospital, running educational advocacy seminars and parenting classes for young mothers and fathers, and working with infants withdrawing from congenital drug addiction. She continued her advocacy role for a non-profit organization working with adjudicated and non-adjudicated youth for the next 10 years, only to return to Howard University Hospital, in a partnership with Johns Hopkins University, to work with mothers, infants and young children as part of a joint study on the effects of asthma.
Following the conclusion of the study, Mrs. Pinkney re-entered the D.C. Public School System to become the District’s Coordinator for Early Childhood Special Education Services. She took the position to ensure that the District’s young children with special needs would receive the best possible attention and education, including timely assessments and support services. After three years of working within the existing system and feeling no nearer to her objective, Mrs. Pinkney decided to open Eagle Academy Public Charter School.
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 in Washington, DC (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. Mrs. Pinkney’s vision in the 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.
Mrs. 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 good people with a bright 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. “Mrs. 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. Mrs. Pinkney was a true leader in innovative, child-centered education.”
On February 24, 2001, Cassandra married John Edward Pinkney. Together they enjoyed life and traveled extensively. She enjoyed attending church service, often accompanied by her grandchildren. Cassandra was also known for her flair in fashion, her creativity in arts and craft and her culinary skills.
In 2004, Cassandra became gravely ill with pancreatitis resulting in an eight-month period of hospitalization. After three near-death experiences, Cassandra made a miraculous recovery. She often remarked that it was prayer and God’s amazing grace that brought her through. Often she would comment “that God took her through this illness to make her humble.”
She is survived by her loving husband of 15 years, John, her daughter, Onari Burroughs, three step-children, Nikole Pinkney, John Che’ Pinkney, and April Watson (Xavian) and in-laws: Charles and Jeannette Pinkney, Ronald and Peggy Pinkney, Benita and Arthur Hawkins, Gerard and Crystal Pinkney, Pariece and William Wilkins, and Virginia Pinkney (Leonard predeceased). She is also survived by 12 grandchildren that she loved dearly and a host of relatives and friends. She enjoyed a special bond with her first born grandchild, Jaylen, whom she claimed as her own.
“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.”
“Mrs. 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.”