three theories

What is it about Eva Moskowitz that attracts so many enemies?

Eva Moskowitz.
Eva Moskowitz.

Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, who has done some seriously good work in the past, this week took his pistol-like investigative skills to the skull of charter school operator and eternal politician Eva Moskowitz — first in a story on the erosion of parent voices in the city schools, and then in a story on Moskowitz’s salary. Gonzalez challenges the salary, which he reports as $371,000 last year (Moskowitz says the real figure is $250,000 plus a $60,000 bonus), suggesting that she should give some of her pay back to her charter schools.

This is hardly the first criticism that’s been thrown at Moskowitz, who previously served as the chair of the City Council’s education committee and ran for borough president of Manhattan, losing to Scott Stringer after the teachers union campaigned against her. As Gonzalez reports, her critics include “educators, parents, the teachers’ union and Harlem political leaders.”

Why’s there so much hate for a woman who has decided to spend her days starting schools for poor and mostly black children in Harlem? There are now many charter school operators in this city. Why focus on Moskowitz? I asked around today and collected three different theories:

1) This theory is the one that’s implicit in Gonzalez’s report: She deserves the scrutiny because she’s not what she claims. She claims that her charter schools are unfairly underfunded by the state — but then she rakes in a big salary herself. She similarly claims to want to improve public education — but then she goes along with a Department of Education plan to move her charter school into an existing public school, effectively allowing the city to go over the heads of parents and, as Gonzalez put it in an another piece this week, “rezone a public school.” (Only about 30 families will be displaced.)

2) The second theory comes by way of a charter school official who asked not to be named because he hadn’t shared his thoughts with Moskowitz. He told me that Moskowitz suffers a style problem. Rather than approaching the district public schools with respect, Moskowitz makes a habit of dismissing their work as unacceptable.

“‘You’re trash,’ is what the message is. ‘You’re trash, and get out of the way, because we know what to do and you don’t,'” the official said. “No person can say that. I don’t think any person has that authority. Especially someone who hasn’t run a successful school for more than a few years.” He said the better method, practiced by several other city charter schools, is to develop relationships of respect and trust, to work together rather than to fight the old system. “Even the KIPP people,who have a much logner track record of success, they speak with a level of humility,” the official said.

3) The third theory is Moskowitz’s own. She acknowledges that she doesn’t work in the same style as other charter school leaders might — but she thinks that’s a good thing. Here’s how she put it to me:

We have to always be respectful of people because being nice is the right thing to do and important, but I think we have a moral obligation to identify schools that are not working for kids, and unfortunately there are a lot of them. If that’s disrespectful – if saying that a school is failing is offensive – I think that we can’t be politically correct and sacrifice children in the process.

The result is that she’s willing and eager to declare schools as failures, and to urge that they be replaced with something new. And the result of that is a powerful challenge to the status quo that she says can mean a high price for her. “Even at considerable personal and professional cost, I’ve never been afraid to raise the bar and to do what I think is right for children and teaching and learning,” she said. “And that’s incredibly threatening.”

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.