Today we’d like to introduce you to Cassandra Ziskind.
Cassandra, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I began teaching over 30 years ago in the Chicago Public School District. I am originally form Galveston Island, Texas but moved to Chicago for graduate school. I have always loved school ever since I was a little child. I use to “play school” during the summer time with my brother and sisters. I was always the teacher and I took it very seriously. I weighed only 2 pounds when I was born. I think I have an inherent inclination to persevere after entering the world fighting to live. My mother says that the doctors told her at my birth that I would not be able to speak or learn. I am very proud to hold a Bachelor’s Degree, 2 Master’s Degrees, and a Doctorate from the University of Southern California. I hope that I am a walking example to children and parents who were told that they would not be able to do something.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
No, it has not always been a smooth road as you can imagine growing up in a small Texas town as an African American little girl with dreams of growing up and going to college, then to live in a big city like Chicago or New York. I think the biggest struggle was climbing over racist barriers to achieve my dreams. One of my earliest unfortunate memories is when I was called the “N” word when I was only about six year old. I remember then thinking,” What does that word mean.” I could tell by their facial expressions that it was not something good. That type of racism was limited. The worst kind of racism is the not so obvious kind that unfortunately has become more frequent these days. Not with me in particular, but in society as a whole. I was fortunate that my mother set a great example for me. She grew up on a farm in Texas, then went on to get her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Nursing. She was the first child of seven children to leave the farm and go off to college. This was a considerable task considering it was the early fifties in the south. Both my parents have taught me to do my best and never give up. I hope that I have passed this on to my son and my daughter.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about El Rincon STEAM Elementary School – what should we know?
My school is a PreK-5th Grade STEAM School. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. I love that kids have an opportunity to experience each of these areas equally and gain a sense of who they want to be when they grow up, without being limited to a certain area of curriculum or practice. We have two Science Labs and a Makerspace Engineering Lab. It’s really rare to find these in a public elementary school. We also have a partnership with the United States Air Force where engineers teach STEM lessons to our fifth graders throughout the year. I am most proud that my school is one of the most diverse schools not only in California but in America! Our kids play and learn with others from many different cultures, backgrounds, and learning abilities. We celebrate diversity and prepare our kids for a global society. I am also fortunate to have the very best teachers and staff that really deeply care about kids and learning. We were recently honored with an award for closing the Achievement Gap, which is a national goal.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
My mother, Mildred Jones is my role model. As I stated earlier, she left parents small farm in Texas to go to college as the first child of seven children. She always valued education and instilled the importance of an education in her children. My husband of 26 years is my biggest cheerleader. We have been together since we were teenagers. He has cheered me on through everything that I wanted to achieve. I was so lucky to meet such a good man at such an early age.
I am so fortunate to work with the best staff that I could ever ask for as an administrator. My teachers and staff work very hard each and every day to ensure that our students are getting the best education that we can provide.