Thursday, August 04, 2016

Eva and Me

by special guest blogger Colocated Teacher
A friend of mine sent me the following account of working inside a Moskowitz Academy building. I'm gonna share it with you today. If you have experiences in Eva's buildings, please feel free to share them in the comment section.

Working on the 4th floor of a building with no elevator, I had lots of exercise this past school year. My health aside, the school building was shared with the city’s largest charter school system, Success Academy. A product of Eva Moskowitz, Success Academy has schools distributed all throughout New York City. I got to see the teachers, the students, and how the school operates on a daily basis. Some of Success Academy’s practices are fairly standard from an educator’s perspective but some were truly surprising. This was the first time I got to see how a charter system works.
Success Academy occupied the entire 2nd floor along with half the 3rd floor of the school. The rest of the building was used by 3 different public schools. Success kept their section of the building pristine. I witnessed how well they maintained their facilities when I was walking through the hallway one morning. There was a broken floor tile on the 3rd floor and a carpenter with a hammer, tools, and a blowtorch, was on his hands and knees fixing it by noon. That type of response is almost unheard of in NYC schools. I don’t know how or why, but it even smelled different when you entered their section. This applied even to the shared 3rd floor. The minute you cross into Success Academy side, the air quality changed. How they do that is still a mystery to me.
The first thing noticeable about the faculty is they are all relatively young. Ninety percent of the staff looks to be in their 20’s or 30’s including the principal. The few occasions where I had seen someone that looks over the age of 45 were guys in suits with clipboards that are not at the school on a regular basis. The teachers arrive very early in the morning, and are there well after I leave in the afternoon. It seems they have a much longer workday than public school teachers. All of them are very well dressed.
Discipline and structure also seems to be a major focus for the staff. The floor tiles were not different because they looked better, but because they were color-coded markers every 5 feet. When Success Academy students walked through the hallway as a class, they were instructed to move from one tile marker to another. I use the term “instructed” very loosely because I have witnessed classes getting scolded for stepping past the designated tile by 1 step. In fact, public scoldings and corporal punishment was not at all uncommon. I would regularly see students with their tables out in the hallway working alone, or standing outside the classroom as punishment. Sometimes a teacher could be heard yelling at a kid from down the hallway while I was in my classroom. This was such a shock for me because public school teachers would have had been disciplined for any of those disciplinary actions while this was happening everyday at Success Academy. Naturally, the students at Success were very well behaved.
Success Academy was a relative oasis within a building shared by a D75 special education elementary school, public middle, and high school. The hallways are cleaner, the classrooms look better, the teachers are younger, kids are in uniform, and they march through the hallway in neat little rows of two. Compared to the three public schools that can be loud, argumentative, and constantly in trouble with the DOE, Success Academy to may appear successful indeed to an outsider.
Look a little deeper and things start to get a bit controversial. The question is--do the ends justify the means? The school is very orderly and successful with standardized tests, but at what cost? Is developing the ability to pass a state test worth having kids getting publicly disciplined for taking one step too many down the hallway? Is getting the students Common Core ready worth having them humiliated by their teachers in front of the class? I’m not sure I’d like to see my kids treated like that.

Also, if charter schools are publicly funded, how is it every Success teacher is issued a new Macbook while public schools need to wait months just to have a broken air conditioning unit fixed? Why is there a different standard for a public school and charter school? It’s still the same tax dollars leaving our pockets.

And finally, where are the older teachers that have built up decades of knowledge and experience? I can hardly believe that young teachers are the only ones that apply to work in charter schools. Yet I never saw one single older teacher

I’ll leave it you to determine how successful Success Academy is. However, if my tax dollars support it, I’d like more transparency. Success Academy historically has not been very cooperative about it, nor are they very open about the practices I see going on inside their schools every day.
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