An extraordinary leader must go against the grain and lead with innovation, creativity and grit. Meet LeeAndra Khan, the Southside native who is in the business of putting the teens of Chicago first.
As the Executive Director at EPIC Academy, she has taken on the task of building a $22 million facility for her students. If you know Khan, this is very much on brand as she carries BIG BOSS energy in any space she enters. The 2022 Chicago Defender Women of Excellence honoree shows us what authentic transformational leadership looks like.
Leadership In Education
An engineer by trade, Khan appreciates the value of learning through education.
“While engineering is interdisciplinary, I have learned that there is nothing like learning the functionalities of the human spirit, behavior and development like in the field of education,” said Khan.
Having served in many capacities within this field — teacher, assistant principal, principal, chief executive officer and now executive director — education has taught her that the beauty of this industry is in the journey and not the destination.
“Education is a great field to stop and smell the roses and take in all that one has done to achieve success for all the students you’ve impacted throughout the school year,” added Khan.
However, being a transformative leader with a growth mindset is not for the weary.
“As a lifelong learner, I’ve had to sit with the power of beginning again and altering my leadership style to empower different groups of people,” she said. “I’ve found strength in learning six simple words, ‘it doesn’t work for this group,’ and rethinking the plan to come back with a practical framework to reach high-level success.”
Mentorship & Authenticity
In her space, Khan provides opportunities for emerging and mid-level leaders to grow and escape; this is effective mentorship.
“I’ve given my mini-me’s (as I call them) authentic leadership,” she said.
“Mentorship works in two ways. I don’t allow anyone into my sphere I cannot learn from. I also let them examine how authenticity can aid their professional journey.”
Khan added, “I’ve continuously operated from this level of comfortability. So the gift I give them is the validation to be themselves, understanding the value their authenticity adds to the workplace and identifying what they’re seeking out of a work experience so that their pivots make sense on their journey.”
$22 Million Facility for Southside Students
It costs to be THE BOSS.
As executive director, Khan has added project manager to her many hats for the $22 million groundbreaking building for EPIC Academy.
Khan says it has been a lengthy, tedious process, yet, it’s well worth it.
“We’ve seen a variety of phases to this project. In the end, after all the city and community approval meetings and inclusion conversations from internal stakeholders, the city council voted and officially approved moving forward with the new building for our students and community.”
EPIC was founded in 2009 by five teachers who wanted to provide a high-quality education option in the South Chicago neighborhood.
“I am proud to say that it has been operating in its mission since its inception. However, EPIC has outgrown the dated CPS elementary building it occupies and now needs a new home. Above all, my goal is to turn EPIC Academy from a single-site charter to a community impact institution,” Khan said.
“I know this new school will bring hope and trust to the community.”
As of now, the new EPIC Academy building is projected to be ready for the 2025/2026 school year.
The new EPIC Academy will feature state-of-the-art classrooms, solar panels, a green roof and a creative career and media center.
It will also continue to serve as an incubator of hopes and dreams for the Southside community.