Cherkira Lashley ’11 Returns to Poly

by Ellie Warwick ’26, Contributing Writer for The Polygon

Alumna Cherkira Lashley ’11, returns to Poly as an Upper School Dean and Assistant Girls’ Varsity Basketball Coach.

In Brooklyn, at 8:45 AM, on a now typical Monday morning, Cherkira Lashley ’11 passionately works in her spacious white office decorated with vibrant social justice posters. She immediately sits back in her ordinary black desk chair and begins working profusely on the mass amounts of tasks she has before her. Her daily to-do list includes personal student work and organization, creating basketball plays, helping the Christian Affinity group, and so much more. Working back at her alma mater Poly Prep, she is now an Upper School Dean, as well as Varsity Girls’ Basketball Coach. 

In the Dean’s Office
Cherkira Lashley

Everyday, diverse groups of students flood her office from hour to hour. Whether it’s doing homework or just catching up with her, they come in to just absorb her company. Lashley has adapted to Poly very quickly, which came easy to her by already knowing and being comfortable with the environment. She instantly developed so many student relationships and continues to add more daily. These dynamics “make me satisfied as a faculty member at Poly.” She says that Poly is very different from when she attended the school, and wishes she “could have had these opportunities back then, particularly having strong student-dean relationships to build comfortability around the school and college process.”   

She wonders to herself what would have happened if she had never chosen to work at Poly. As a former student, she explained, “I was especially surprised when picturing myself as a role model and some who follows the rules.” When she attended Poly, she didn’t make much of an effort in her school work and instead focused on sports. While sports remains important to her, she is shocked to find how much she enjoys being a dean and helping students in the college admissions process.

Lashley the Rebel and Path to Teaching

Lashley was not always in a high-level authority position with many opportunities. When she attended the school as a student, she was known as a class clown and rarely followed the rules. “I was not serious at all, and instead was very playful when it came to work and school. Back when Poly had a dress code, I rarely abided by it.”

Although Lashley has always been devoted to education and teaching, she has many other passions. As written in the faculty directory, following her high school experience at Poly, she decided to go to college at Wesleyan University. At Wesleyan she earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in English and African American studies. She is also a key member of the women’s basketball team and slam poetry team. She previously worked at Friends Academy, where she taught English, coached Varsity Girls’ Basketball, and served as a junior class dean. Her strong passion to educate and coach spread beyond Friends as she also became the Director of the Brooklyn Youth Sports Club Summer Program designed to provide fitness, personal development, leadership training, mindfulness, and college guidance to young women who dream to play college basketball. Before working at Friends and BKYSC, Lashley was an English teacher at Advanced Math and Science III, while earning a Master of Arts in Adolescent Education at Relay Graduate School for Education. 

On Teaching English and Returning to Poly

Lashley had a strong aspiration to teach literature and poetry, and being an English teacher she loved “watching kids learn through reading about somebody else’s experiences because I saw it as being so powerful.” She mentions how in her former schools the culture was very conservative, although not oppressive. “The environment was kind of polarizing with the communities that identify as conservative within a community that identifies liberal. And there was a lot of tension in the political climate of the school that I didn’t love.” Lashley overall loved her teaching and coaching experiences at Friends and BKYSC, but was ready for a change. 

Lashley had previously considered returning to Poly because “I had a desire to come back to a place that was so familiar to me.” She loved attending Poly as a student, however some bumps in the road she encountered built in her an impulse to fix them. For example, she says “I didn’t have a personal relationship with my dean as a student. It was so fraught that I felt like there was some restoration that I could create by coming back.” 

Cherkira Lashley with Coach Michael Junsch ’71, P’94, ’95 (Photo via Poly Alumni Instagram)

When Lashley was a student, “there weren’t six different deans assigned to specific cohorts, there were only deans for the entire upper school who also taught multiple other classes.” With so little access and knowledge on what deans did, she never went out of her way to create a bond with her dean. Seeing how the dean team operates now, “I am excited to expand my knowledge and understanding of the dean position.”

Poly allowed Lashley to grow and develop across many years. “Poly made me who I am today and created lifelong memories for me. My personality was built here,” so the concept of being back and continuing a new chapter at Poly was exciting and intriguing. Lashley found her interest in education and poetry at Poly, while also building her basketball career. Many inspiring figures at Poly contributed to shaping her life today, such as Coach Michael Junsch ’71, P’94, ’95 , Girls’ Varsity Basketball Coach, and Bud Cox, a former head of Poly Prep. These upstanding role models for Lashley taught her “how to lead with warmth and firmness,” and “created a lifelong passion for basketball.” 

As said in a Polygon article, “Lashley was no ordinary candidate,” in the Poly community.” In the article Emily Gardiner P’24, ’27, Upper School Deans Department Chair, says, “ ‘I remember very clearly the way [the admissions team] all ran down the hall and said, ‘This is a very special person, this is a very special person.’ ” 

She wants to expand her memories at Poly while also building it up for the better. As said in an article about her in the Polygon, she wanted to share her “wealth of experience to not only the Upper School, but the entire Poly community.” 

It all started when, following her thoughts of wanting to return to Poly, Coach Junsch, who was also Lashley’s former basketball coach from when she attended Poly, called her. He stated how he “noticed her coaching at Friends Academy.” He wanted her to coach with him and to possibly take over when he retired. She was his former player and he saw a lot in her. “I felt honored that he would think of me as an aspiring coach and I am always grateful and excited about the opportunity to learn from him because he is my favorite coach that I’ve ever had.” 

Cherika Lashley
Cherkira Lashley ’11 takes the shot at the Student-Faculty basketball game.
Connection & Leadership

Lashley points out how her teaching at Poly was so much different from all the her previous teaching jobs. Being a dean at Poly, she is way more involved in communicating with families. “There are more opportunities to just talk to kids about who they are or what they’re interested in. It’s a part of my job now versus like when I was doing it as an English teacher, where it was an addition to my job. I am building more meaningful relationships with kids in ways I couldn’t before, and now doing so in informal spaces versus the formal spaces like classrooms.” She also has more authority as a dean and can make decisions on a higher level. “I feel grateful that I am the person that is making the decisions.” 

Lashley believes it’s “ironic but also really powerful for [her] to come back and have an opportunity to have a more serious identity here.” She is excited to now be a representation of the rule following, and ironically she is “astonished that I am now holding kids accountable and being a bit of a disciplinarian.”

Although she didn’t take school very seriously back in her day, she still made many key connections with teachers that still continue to today. Maité Iracheta, a Spanish teacher at Poly Prep, thinks of Lashley in a very high manner. “Lashley was a very memorable student and she set a tone or a mood in the class by comparisons, participation, and just her company in the classroom as a student that would come with joy and be ready for whatever would happen in the class. Her demeanor was always very welcoming which made her and others around her happier.”

Lashley now sees herself as a more serious leader in a place where she may have had the opposite reputation as a student. She also looks forward to continuing to make vital student-dean connections, expanding her contribution in affinity groups such as the Christian Affinity Group, and “trying to change the culture around the obsession with grades.” Her goal is to make students have a “healthy relationship with failure because the harsh idea of getting perfect grades robs kids of the beautiful aspects of learning and having a space of curiosity in what they learn. This change could be very powerful and beneficial to the Poly community.”

Lashley has many new ideas for the future, but she can’t help to think everyday about how her personality grew in Poly from when she was known as “little Cherkira.” It’s surreal to her “feeling like that kid again” while also being an “powerful role model in the Poly community.”