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Queens Chronicle

BACK TO SCHOOL & FALL GUIDE 2019 Success Academy CEO talks shop

One-on-one with Eva Moskowitz

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Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2019 10:30 am

The political winds are not exactly at Success Academy founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz’s back.

Her charter school network took a huge political loss when Republicans lost control of the state Senate last year, with Democrats achieving complete control of Albany. In March, the city reached 235 charters, the maximum allowed under state law. Then, despite calls to do so by a longtime charter ally, Gov. Cuomo, the Legislature this year did not raise that cap.

Moskowitz is confident, though. Elected officials will get the message from Success parents, she said in an Aug. 8 sitdown interview with the Queens Chronicle.

“You’re going to see our parents,” the former Upper East Side city councilwoman said. “If you’re an elected official, you’re going to see them as part of your religious community. You’re going to see them in the grocery store. And our parents have an enormous amount of fervor for the quality of education.”

Since its founding in 2006, the publicly funded and privately operated network now has 45 schools with approximately 17,000 students. Four of the elementary schools and one of the middle schools are in Queens. Moskowitz admitted that the city reaching the cap will limit long-term growth but said she has “enough charters in the short term.”

“Right now, we are depending on Albany to fix that problem. But there’s a second problem, which is that even if you have the charter, if you don’t have the real estate, the charter’s not going to do you any good.”

The Success head says the de Blasio administration is delaying following up on an agreement to provide her charter network with space to establish a second middle school in Queens.

Demand for Moskowitz’s charters is high in Southeast Queens. The schools are regularly praised for exceptionally high state test scores, far above their counterparts at nearby district schools. According to Success, its two schools in the borough with testing grades last year ranked in the top 2 percent in both math and reading in the entire state.

How do they do it?

“One of the simple answers is just the level of rigor,” Moskowitz said. In district schools, the “curriculum has been dumbed down. Everything has been sort of reduced and we don’t do that. We actually think 5-year-olds are pretty capable and that you can teach fractions in kindergarten.”

She also cited what she described as Success’ emphasis on making sure that students — known as “scholars” within the network — aren’t bored at school.

“We have the investment we make in what are called ‘specials’ — the art, the music, the dance, the sports. I think they can be undervalued. Kids have to love coming to school.”

Another key factor in the success of Success has been the network’s relationships with students’ parents, Moskowitz said.

“For example, we have an open door policy,” she explained. “Any parent, without an appointment, can walk into any classroom and spend 30 minutes. Not just their child’s classroom, any classroom.”

Not everyone is loving Success, though. Detractors charge that it focuses on testing to the exclusion of other important parts of a child’s education. Moskowitz denies that, saying that test scores are “an important metric” for students but not the only one.

Critics also say the charter network forces out students deemed problematic and discriminates against ones with disabilities.

A federal judge in August 2018 ruled that a lawsuit against the charter network, alleging discrimination against students with disabilities, can go forward. Five of the plaintiffs are parents of students whose names were on a “Got to Go” list of students reportedly targeted to be forced out, which was created by the principal of a Success school in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Moskowitz has said the list was an isolated incident, not a systemwide policy. The principal got demoted and took a teaching job at a different Success school.

The charter network founder dismissed the claim that Success discriminates against kids with disabilities or cherry-picks them in the charter network’s lottery-based admission process.

“I would just say it’s false,” she said. “We have 17 percent of students with special needs in our schools.”

According to its website, the city Department of Education’s overall percentage is 19 percent — not significantly higher.

Suspensions for young students have also generated controversy for the charter network.

In her sitdown interview, Moskowitz said the suspensions are not intended to be “punitive,” but rather to maintain a classroom environment where students can learn.

“I think it’s hard to imagine that a 5-year-old could throw a chair across the room but it does happen. Children these days can use highly inappropriate language in a classroom, either cursing or even sexualized language.”

Critics have also noted the charter network’s high staff turnover rate. According to Moskowitz, about 30 percent of teachers are gone after their first year.

“We get poached by the other charters constantly,” she said. “We’re like their farm team. We just have very high standards for teachers.”

Welcome to the discussion.