new strategies

SUNY looks for new operator to take over failing charter school

For the first time, SUNY officials are looking to reinvent a struggling charter school with new leadership rather than shutting it down and sending its students elsewhere.

Rather than closing Harlem Day Charter School for its low test scores, the SUNY Charter School Institute is trying to find a new operator to replace the school’s board, administration and staff.

“The key element here is that really the only thing that would remain would be students,” said Jonas Chartock, the institute’s executive director. The idea is that the school’s 240 students would experience less disruption if their school was restructured rather than closed.

The call for applications that SUNY released today does not explicitly name Harlem Day. But that school’s charter is up for renewal this year and its enrollment numbers match those described in SUNY’s document. Harlem Day’s progress report grade this year ranked the school as the 11th poorest-performing elementary or middle school in the city.

Chartock said that when the board realized that its low test scores made its chances for renewal slim, board members said they would rescind their renewal application if SUNY was able to find another board to take over the school.

“I do think that’s an example that other boards can learn from,” Chartock said.

If SUNY goes through with the move, it would be the first time a charter school’s board has voluntarily handed over its charter to a new board and new operator, Chartock said.

But today’s proposal appears to be designed for Harlem Day specifically, rather than as a broad policy shift for failing charters. Chartock said that it’s unclear whether this kind of charter re-start process could eventually be used at other schools.

It’s also unclear exactly how some of the logistics of the shift — like a transfer of the school’s building lease and its finances — would work.

New York Charter Schools Association Policy Director Peter Murphy said that the re-start has the potential to succeed. Harlem Day has struggled academically but does not have problems like safety, conflicts between parents and administration, or mismanagement that have plagued other troubled charters. That makes it more likely that a new operator could pull off a smooth transition, he said.

“Usually when the grades are low, there’s a bunch of other easily identifiable problems,” Murphy said. “That’s not the case here.”

But Murphy expressed reservations that restructuring the school would necessarily be better than shutting it down entirely, especially in a neighborhood like Harlem where many other charter operators provide options for the school’s students. (Andy Rotherham made a similar argument on his blog yesterday.)

Chartock noted that it’s possible the institute would not approve any of the applications it receives to take over the school. In that case, he said, SUNY would proceed with the school’s renewal process and likely recommend against renewing the charter.

The institute released its call for applications today before SUNY’s Board of Trustees have officially approved the move. But Chartock said that the early call was necessary to give potential charter operators enough time to prepare their applications.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”