training day

Moskowitz offers training for district school principals, and city offers praise

Eva Moskowitz speaks last year at a seminar hosted by Success Academy that was open to other charter and district school leaders. Moskowitz is hosting a similar event next month and directly appealing for New York City principals to attend.

Eva Moskowitz earned rare praise from the de Blasio administration on Tuesday after she invited city principals to a training day sponsored by her charter school network next month.

Moskowitz, who founded Success Academy Charter Schools in 2006, is offering to host classroom visits and professional development sessions on Oct. 30 for leaders of the city’s district elementary schools. She’s even emailed Chancellor Carmen Fariña and other top education officials directly to help get the word out.

“This is great to see,” said Devora Kaye, a spokesperson for Fariña, in response to the announcement.

The offer to share resources and details about Success’ curriculum, management, and programs aligns with what Mayor Bill de Blasio and Fariña have said they want from the city’s charter schools. Fariña in particular has encouraged teachers and principals to visit each other’s schools in a structured way, saying the practice is a key driver of improvement.

“We celebrate when schools answer the chancellor’s call for greater collaboration,” Kaye said.

The praise is notable given de Blasio’s frosty relationship with Moskowitz, a political rival with mayoral ambitions and starkly different ideas about how to improve public education. And it’s unclear if Fariña intends to help market the event to district principals. Only five months ago, Moskowitz helped organize attack ads against the mayor after he blocked three of her schools from co-locating in district school buildings.

For those who want charter schools to serve as laboratories of new ideas and then to share them with district schools—a central premise of the charter movement when city teachers union president Albert Shanker first embraced it in 1988—the development was seen as a “good first step.”

“But it’s only a first step,” said David Bloomfield, a professor of educational leadership at Brooklyn College. “My hope would be that this initiates an ongoing collaboration of Success and other charters” and district schools, he said.

Success, the city’s largest charter school network, is currently applying to expand from 32 to 46 schools over the next two years. The schools are in high demand from parents and rank as or among the city’s top-performing schools each year on state tests.

Success schools last year attracted 300 visitors from people who wanted to know more about the network’s which opened with its first school in 2006, Success spokesperson Ann Powell said.

But the schools are also controversial among teachers and principals who work in district schools, who argue that the charter sector’s growth hurts the traditional public school system, which loses resources as more students attend charter schools. Teachers and education activists have been airing their criticisms of Success by circulating petitions against Success’ application to expand and at public hearings where the applications are being reviewed.

The October training event is open to 60 people, and that a few principals have already signed up, Powell said, and the network has focused its outreach on schools co-located with Success Academy schools.

The event will include classroom observations in the morning focused on the network’s “Think Literacy” curriculum and approach to math instruction, followed by meetings in the afternoon at Columbia University. Moskowitz will moderate an afternoon session called “The Essential Role of the Principal” to “discuss the critical role of the principals as an instructional leader,” according to an outline of the day that Success posted online for those who are interested in registering.

Last year, Success held a similar event mostly for other charter school leaders, including KIPP’s Dave Levin, Achievement First’s Dacia Toll, and Uncommon’s Schools’ Brett Pieser. A group of educators from the Houston Independent School District also attended.

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.