comeback kid

Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz goes on the offensive with press conference on city test scores

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz at a press conference about state test scores.

After weeks of controversy for Success Academy, its founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz hosted her own press conference Thursday to highlight her network’s impressive performance on state tests and call out the mayor for celebrating the city’s lesser results.

“As the leader of this organization, I am goosebump proud,” Moskowitz said. But then, taking aim at the city, she said, “I’m outraged by the educational racism engendered by the system. I’m also frustrated with the mayor’s response.”

Citywide, 40.6 percent of students passed the English exam and 37.8 percent passed the math exam. That is a slight uptick from last year, and de Blasio said the results made Tuesday, when they were announced, a “good news day.”

However, those scores lag significantly behind those of Success Academy schools, which outperformed even schools in much wealthier districts like Scarsdale and Chappaqua. With a student body that’s more than 90 percent students of color, Success Academy had an 84 percent pass rate in English and 95 percent pass rate in math.

Inevitably, however, the conversation at Thursday’s press conference shifted back to the news of the past few weeks: Success board chairman Dan Loeb’s inflammatory Facebook post likening an African-American New York state senator to the KKK. Loeb has since apologized and Moskowitz called the comments “indefensible.” Yet, Loeb remains the board’s chair.  

In response, Joseph Belluck, chair of SUNY’s Charter School Committee — which authorizes Success Academy schools — told the Wall Street Journal it would be “very difficult” to expand the network if Loeb remains on the board.

Moskowitz responded to Belluck’s remarks Thursday by repeating her condemnation of Loeb’s comments and insisting she wanted to focus instead on running her schools.

“I have explained that those values do not reflect the values that we hold dear at Success Academy,” Moskowitz said. “And I’m really focused on teaching and learning.”

When asked if she is worried about her network’s expansion, Moskowitz said she was confident SUNY would place greater weight on Success Academy’s achievements than on Loeb’s comments when making final decisions about schools.

“SUNY is an incredibly strong authorizer and will decide on the merits of the application and on the merits of the work that all the people behind me do each and every day,” Moskowitz said, referring to a group of Success Academy principals and network leaders.

The press conference also signaled that any tentative truce between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the charter sector is already on the rocks. At the close of this year’s state legislative session, de Blasio struck a deal with the charter sector, which included plans to streamline charters’ access to public school space.

But soon after, charter school advocates called on de Blasio to prove his commitment by granting 27 outstanding charter school space requests, and advocates including Moskowitz have continued to hammer the city on the issue.

On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the mayor said by criticizing the city’s test scores, Moskowitz is only trying to draw attention away from Loeb’s statements.

“We have implemented real reforms to help close the achievement gap,” said spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie. “This is nothing more than a stunt designed to distract from the deeply offensive and disqualifying comments made by Success Academy’s leading financier.”

Critics say Success owes its test scores, in part, to a practice of pushing out high-needs students, though network leaders have long denied that accusation. Moskowitz says her schools are closing the so-called achievement gap and it’s fair game to call out those who are not.

“It’s not helpful to not have a good relationship [with the mayor],” Moskowitz said. “But we also have a duty to children and to teaching and learning, and we can’t ignore a victory lap that is really inappropriate given the stats.”

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”