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 touted her network's test scores at a press conference in 2017.

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.”


A student is in custody after Noblesville West Middle School shooting that injured another student and teacher

Police asses the scene outside Noblesville High School after a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School on May 25, 2018 (Photo by Kevin Moloney/Getty Images)

A male student shot and injured a teacher and another student at Noblesville West Middle School on Friday morning, police said.

Noblesville police Chief Kevin Jowitt said the shooting suspect asked to leave a class and returned armed with two handguns. The suspect, who police said appeared to be uninjured, is in custody and has not been identified by police.

The teacher, 29-year-old Jason Seaman, was in “good” condition Friday evening at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, police said. The female student, who was not identified by police, was in critical condition at Riley Hospital for Children.

News outlets were reporting that Seaman intervened to stop the shooter, but authorities said they could not confirm that on Friday afternoon.

The Noblesville Police Department has a full-time school resource officer assigned to the school who responded to the incident, Jowitt said. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies also responded to the shooting.

“We do know that the situation resolved extremely quickly,” Jowitt said. “We don’t know what happened in the classroom, so I can’t make any kinds of comments about what [the resource officer’s] involvement was.”

Students were evacuated to Noblesville High School on Friday morning, where families met them.

Jowitt said an additional threat was made at the high school, but they had “no reason to believe it’s anything other than a communicated threat.”

Police continue to investigate. They said they do not believe there are additional suspects. Noblesville Police spokesman Bruce Barnes could not say how the student acquired the guns, but he said search warrants have been issued.

Noblesville West Middle School enrolls about 1,300 students. Noblesville is a suburb of Indianapolis, about 20 miles north in Hamilton County. The district has about 10,500 students.

The frenzied scenes Friday outside the school have become sadly familiar. Already, there have been 23 school shootings in 2018 that involved someone being injured or killed, according to media tallies.

Just last week, 10 people were killed and 13 others were injured in a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston. A student at the school has been arrested and charged.

In February, 17 people — 14 students and three staff — were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a 19-year-old faces multiple charges.  The Parkland tragedy set off a wave of student activism across the country — including in Indianapolis — calling for stricter gun control.

“We’ve had these shootings around the country,” said Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear. “You just never think it could happen in Noblesville, Indiana. But it did.”

Noblesville Schools Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer praised the “heroic” efforts of school staff and students, saying they followed their training on how to react to an active shooter situation.

Barnes also hinted at the broader trauma that school shootings can have on students and communities.

“We ask for your prayers for the victims in this case,” he said. “I think that would include a lot of kids, not only ones that were truly the victims in this case, but all these other kids that are trying to make sense of this situation.”

Watch the press conference:

A Chalkbeat reporter is on the scene:

In a pattern that has become routine, Democratic and Republican politicians offered prayers on Twitter.

temporary reprieve

Parents score a temporary victory in slowing the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Protesters gathered at the education department's headquarters to protest a recent set of closure plans.

A judge blocked the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school Thursday — at least for now.

Three families from P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School filed a lawsuit in March backed by the public interest group Advocates for Justice, arguing the city’s decision to close the school was illegal because the local elected parent council was not consulted.

Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine did not make a final ruling Thursday about whether the closure plan violated the law. But she issued a temporary order to keep the school open while the case moves forward.

It was not immediately clear when the case will be resolved or even if the school will remain open next year. “We are reviewing the stay and will determine an appropriate course of action once the judge makes a final decision on the case,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in a statement.

The education department said the school has hemorrhaged students in recent years and is simply too small to be viable: P.S. 25 currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.

“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students,” Holness wrote. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted in February to close the school.

But the school’s supporters point out that despite low test scores in the past, P.S. 25 now ranks among the city’s top elementary schools, meaning that its closure would force students into lower-performing schools elsewhere.

“Why close a school that’s doing so well?” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

But even if the education department loses the lawsuit, the school’s fate would still be uncertain. The closure plan would theoretically be subject to a vote from the local education council, whose president supports shuttering the school.

Still, Haimson hopes the lawsuit ultimately persuades the education department to back away from closing the school in the long run.

“My goal would be to get the chancellor to change his mind,” Haimson said. “I don’t think the future is preordained.”