Success Academy chief Eva Moskowitz says she won’t run for mayor — this time

Eva Moskowitz, the polarizing charter school chief who has frequently clashed with Mayor Bill de Blasio, will not run for mayor in 2017, she said Thursday.

Speaking in front of City Hall, Moskowitz said she wanted to remain focused on her growing network of charter schools and on “educational activism.” The much-anticipated announcement brings speculation about her role in the 2017 mayor’s race to an early end, though she said she hasn’t ruled out a run in 2021.

“I think that what could be accomplished in public education is game changing,” she said. “I believe we have the chance to dramatically change public education, of doing for education, frankly, what Apple did with computing for the iPhone, what Google is doing with driverless cars.”

With Moskowitz bowing out of the mayoral race, speculation is likely to shift to the question of whether she will give her blessing to another candidate — which could bring with it the backing of thousands of charter-school parents and perhaps some of Success’ wealthy financiers. She said Thursday that she would seek to endorse a candidate who promised to overhaul the city’s education system, but added that she has yet identify that person.

Moskowitz has developed a passionate, if still relatively small, constituency of parents who want to see charter schools expand. On Wednesday, thousands of charter school supporters marched to City Hall, including parents, students, and teachers from Success’ nearly three-dozen schools.

But she would have faced a tough challenge if she had decided to face off against de Blasio when he runs for a second term: The mayor would have an advantage as an incumbent with broad support among organized labor, and Moskowitz would need to cultivate a larger base of support beyond charter-school parents and donors.

She also would have to contend with a reputation for abrasiveness and a record of confrontation with her critics, which has led some fellow charter operators to distance themselves from her and galvanized many charter-school opponents. During her announcement Thursday, protesters chanted in nearby City Hall Park.

Moskowitz acknowledged that such protests would become a fact of life if she became mayor, with “four years of dueling press conferences” likely between her administration and her chief antagonist, teachers union president Michael Mulgrew.

Mulgrew released a statement after the press conference suggesting that if Moskowitz ran for mayor it would expose her connection to big donors.

“Thousands of teachers and parents are disappointed today.  They had been looking forward to pulling back the curtain and showing the public the real Eva Moskowitz and the privatization agenda of her hedge-fund pals,” he said.

Still, the interest her announcement brought on Wednesday and Thursday illustrates the power she wields as one of de Blasio’s toughest critics. Moskowitz defeated the mayor early in his tenure when he tried to block her schools from moving into public buildings, and she has more recently publicized their disputes over payments and public space for her schools. On Thursday, she said she does not blame him for the challenges facing the city school system, but that he should be held accountable for finding ways to fix it.

Moskowitz, a former city councilwoman who chaired the education committee, has long mixed politics with the work of running charter schools. She runs a political action committee, Great Public Schools, that’s given money to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state elected officials in recent years. She’s also an adept fundraiser, with members of the Success Academy network’s board contributing large sums to campaigns.

Her decision not to challenge de Blasio comes as Success Academy is growing quickly. The network is preparing to open eight new schools next year, and dozens of others are still expanding. The network also saw the departures of two longtime executives last month, including Keri Hoyt, Moskowitz’s longtime second-in-command.

One challenge for Moskowitz, and Success, if she were to run for public office in the future is the scrutiny it would attract to her schools.

Moskowitz has clashed with educators on a host of practices that she uses in her schools — whose students consistently outscore most of their charter and traditional school peers on state tests — including harsh discipline policies. She says that suspensions should be used to send a message to students and families about a school’s expectations, something she’s defended as many cities, and federal education officials, have pushed to reduce exclusionary discipline practices. Her schools have also been criticized for an overemphasis on intense test preparation and for serving a smaller share of high-needs students than the traditional public school system.

Meanwhile, Moskowitz’s appearances in Washington and at education-reform events have given her a growing profile on the national stage. Last year, she testified before Congress about education’s role in boosting the economy and this year brought students and a teacher to Capitol Hill to show demonstrate a lesson to lawmakers.

“I am very clear in my convictions of what needs to be done,” she said Thursday, “so I’m going to continue to do educational activism in the same way I’ve done it for the last 20 years.”

early running

Denver school board race opens up as Rosemary Rodriguez announces she won’t seek re-election

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Board member Rosemary Rodriguez speaks at Abraham Lincoln High (Chalkbeat file)

Denver school board member Rosemary Rodriguez said Wednesday that she is not running for re-election, putting her southwest Denver seat up for grabs in what will likely be a contentious school board campaign this fall with control of the board at stake.

Rodriguez told Chalkbeat she is retiring from her job as senior advisor to Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and plans to sell her home and buy a smaller one that belonged to her grandparents.

That home is not in her school board district, District 2, but in the district represented by board member Lisa Flores. With the exception of at-large members, Denver school board members must live in the districts they represent.

“If it weren’t the case, I would still be running,” Rodriguez said.

During her four-year tenure, Rodriguez worked with community groups and others to spotlight student achievement in southwest Denver, leading to new schools and better transportation.

Former Denver Public Schools teacher and Denver native Angela Cobian announced Wednesday that she is running for the seat. Rodriguez has endorsed Cobian, a political newcomer who works for the nonprofit Leadership for Educational Equity, which helps Teach for America members and alumni get involved in politics and advocacy.

All seven current board members support Denver’s nationally known brand of education reform, which includes a “portfolio” of traditional district-run, charter, magnet and innovation schools.

With four of the the board’s seats up for grabs this November, the campaign presents an opportunity for opponents of those reforms to again try to get a voice on the board.

The field is still very much taking shape. The most competitive race so far involves District 4 in northeast Denver. Incumbent Rachele Espiritu, who was appointed to the seat last year, announced her campaign earlier this month. The board chose Espiritu after its initial pick, MiDian Holmes, withdrew after a child abuse case came to light and she was not forthcoming with all the details.

Also filing paperwork to run in District 4 is Jennifer Bacon, who was a finalist in the process that led to the board picking Espiritu. Auontai “Tay” Anderson, the student body president of Manual High School, declared his candidacy for the northeast Denver seat in April.

Incumbents Mike Johnson and Barbara O’Brien have not yet filed election paperwork with the state. Two candidates have declared for O’Brien’s at-large seat: Julie Banuelos and Jo Ann Fujioka.

equity issues

A report found black students and teachers in Denver face inequities. Can these 11 recommendations make a difference?

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/Denver Post
A student at Ashley Elementary School in Denver.

Helping African-American families understand their children’s school choices, offering signing bonuses to prospective black teachers and making student discipline data count in school ratings are among the recommendations of a task force that tackled inequities faced by African-American students and educators in Denver.

“Once we were able to get past some of the hurts that people experienced, once we were able to come up with the root causes and understand this process is going to be uncomfortable, we were able to come together in a way to do the work we need to do,” Allen Smith, the associate chief of Denver Public Schools’ Culture, Equity and Leadership Team, said Wednesday at an event to reveal the recommendations and solicit feedback at Bruce Randolph School on the city’s northeast side.

The DPS African-American Equity Task Force, which was comprised of more than 100 members, made 11 recommendations in all. (Read them in full below.) They include directing the district to:

— Design a tool to assist African-American families in understanding which schools best match their students’ needs and interests, and “generate personalized recommendations.”

— Require every school to create an Equity Plan “designed to strengthen relationships between African-Americans and schools” through strategies such as home visits by teachers.

— Ensure curriculum is culturally responsive to African-American students.

— Develop a plan to increase black students’ access to “high value learning opportunities,” including the district’s gifted and talented program, and concurrent enrollment courses.

— Create a human resources task force that would, among other things, ensure African-American job candidates receive equal consideration and once hired, equal pay.

— Incentivize black educators to come to DPS and stay, and create a pipeline program to encourage black students “to return to serve their own communities.”

The recommendations do not include a price tag. Nor have they “been evaluated for legal compliance,” according to the document.

The task force was created in the wake of a critical report documenting the concerns of 70 African-American Denver educators. The educators said black teachers feel isolated and passed-over for promotions. Black students are being left behind academically, the teachers said, in part because of low expectations and harsh discipline by teachers who are not black.

Thirteen percent of the district’s approximately 92,000 students are African-American. Last year, just 4 percent of DPS teachers were black. Seventy-four percent were white.

District statistics show that the percentages of African-American students who are proficient in English and math, as measured by state tests, trail district averages. Only a third of black students graduated college-ready last year, which is lower than white or Latino students.

Meanwhile, more black students are identified as needing special education. And African-American students have the highest suspension rate in the district.

The district has taken some steps to address the inequities. DPS is part of a multi-year campaign along with the mayor’s office and charter school operators to recruit more than 70 teachers of color and 10 school leaders of color to Denver.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg noted at Wednesday’s event that DPS is starting to see results; one-quarter of new principals hired to lead schools next year are African-American, he said.

For the first time this year, the district required its new teachers to take a previously optional three-hour course on culturally responsive teaching in which they were asked to share fears about working with students and families from different backgrounds.

DPS also added a new measure this year to its color-coded school rating system that takes into account how well schools are educating traditionally underserved students. However, the district has since tweaked its “equity indicator” in response to concerns from school leaders, and the task force recommended even more changes. In addition to looking at student test scores, it is calling for including discipline data, as well as teacher hiring, retention and promotion data.

And the district has announced plans to eliminate out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for preschool through third-grade students except in the most serious incidents.

The set of 11 recommendations includes one overarching one: the creation of an African-American Equity Team to ensure the district executes the ideas it adopts.

“A deep thank you for your work and a deep thank you in advance for the work we will be doing together,” Boasberg said.

The recommendations are scheduled to be presented to the Denver school board in June.

Read the full recommendations below.