Since its founding in 2006 by former New York City councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, Success Academy Charter Schools has become one of the most prominent charter networks in the country because of its ability to rally parents, influence politics and achieve extraordinary academic results for students.
The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation was the first financial backer of Success. “I met with Eli Broad and said, ‘I know I’m a politician, but I’m going to start a set of schools,” said Moskowitz. “He gave us our first $1 million gift.” Since then, the foundation has invested $14 million to help the charter network grow to 43 schools and counting. Success Academy’s 9,000 students, the great majority of whom come from low-income families and communities of color, rank in the top of the state in math and are among the best in English. Above all, Success students are taught to follow their curiosity—teachers talk less in the front of the room, and children learn by doing rather than by memorizing.
“Kids are curious about the world around them long before they are interested in reading or math,” Moskowitz said. “Kids have to puzzle over things.”
Success designed a curriculum from scratch because it found no existing materials that were designed to challenge students, Moskowitz said. Success kindergartners study physics through simple experiments, and students in later grades do not repeat material from one grade to the next, as most textbooks require. Units of study are flexible rather than rigidly scheduled to take one month each. Students also expand their horizons through dance classes, chess competitions and debating championships.
The goal, Moskowitz said, was to create an education that any family would want their child to have. The proof is in the demand: for every open spot in a Success classroom, 10 students are clamoring to get in. And if Success has its way, it will soon be able to serve many more students: the network hopes to grow to include 100 schools by 2020.
“We are a different animal than when we started because we are pre-K through high school,” Moskowitz said. “In about seven years, we will be graduating 5,000 seniors a year. It’s a massive undertaking.”
“The things they have now in charter schools, they didn’t have it at their old school. You had to make appointments or call to talk to the teacher. At Success, you don’t have to ask. They take time out. They always say, ‘What can I help you with? What does your child need?’ They listen to you. If something isn’t right, they correct it. They check on everything. They check on reading. That is a good thing. They check to make sure the attire is up to par. That is a good thing.
“We come all the way from the Bronx. We leave at 6:30 to get to school before 7:30. But I love it. Success Academy is a good school. It helps my kids a lot. I get along with the teachers and the parents. I go to the rallies. I do everything. My kids go to these schools, so I want to be involved in everything the school has.”
“I knew in elementary school that I wanted to be a teacher. I’m one of five children, so I was always helping my siblings with their homework. I loved the satisfaction of seeing my hard work and someone else’s hard work pay off. I was fortunate enough to go to private school, but I didn’t want to get into teaching to go that same route. I wanted to make more of an impact. As soon as I heard about Success and talked to people who worked here, I knew it would be a place where I could walk out of work and know I made an impact in the life of a child. I’m so lucky that’s how I feel on a day-to-day basis.”