The Catalyst: School Ties

Pinpointing your purpose 


Jermaine Gassaway

In 2002, Jermaine Gassaway, SOE/MEd ’23, EdD ’27, then 15, faced an impossible choice: his home or his education.

The youngest of five boys raised by a single mother, Gassaway found sanctuary—and purpose—in the classroom. The native Washingtonian spent afternoons in the stacks at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library and did homework by candlelight when the power was shut off at home. 

Gassaway reached a crossroads in high school when he petitioned the DC State Board of Education to attend a higher-performing school in Prince George’s County, Maryland. 

“I rode the Metro bus from the top of the morning to the end of the day [instead of going to school]. It was that tough of an environment,” says Gassaway, now the superintendent of Movement Schools in Raleigh, North Carolina. His request and appeal were denied. 

Then Gassaway’s mentor and former sixth-grade teacher, Ms. Brown, told him about Piney Woods School in Jackson, Mississippi. She helped him apply, and he was offered a full scholarship. His basketball coach drove him 16 hours to the school.

In 2006, Gassaway became the only one of his brothers to graduate from high school. “I would not be where I’m at had I not made the decision to go to boarding school,” he says. And Gassaway didn’t stop there.

After earning his bachelor’s from Johnson C. Smith University, he joined Teach for America in Detroit. He settled on a career in education to help students who came from backgrounds like his own. 

“Our kids need both windows and mirrors—people that look like them with shared experiences, but also diverse experiences,” says Gassaway, noting that just 2 percent of US teachers are Black men.

He’s now working to open a charter school in central North Carolina in August 2025. Gassaway’s goal: to ensure students don’t have to make the choice he did. “No child should ever have to leave their home and travel over 600 miles to attain a quality education.”