Success Academies CEO, Eva Moskowitz: Exercising Detrimental Control
On May 11, 2016, Eliza Shapiro of Politico published a piece entitled, “Internal Documents Lay Out Threats to the Success Academy Model.”
It seems that Politico obtained a number of Success Academy (SA) internal documents. What I find particularly interesting is that SA CEO Eva Moskowitz wants to nationally market the SA “brand” in the future, and in order to prepare for marketing the SA brand, she plans to first take SA “to scale” in New York City by expanding her SA network to 100 schools serving 50,000 students. SA currently consists of 34 schools serving 11,000 students.
The documents included a risk assessment related to SA plans to expand. Two risks are particularly noteworthy.
The first concerns the fact that SA has a lot of staff churn– and it doesn’t stop with the teachers. In fact, noticeable SA churn extends to its top management– with many not lasting beyond two years. As Shapiro observes:
IN THE SIXTEEN MONTHS SINCE THE RISK ASSESSMENT was drafted, at least five high-level Success executives have left the network, out of 20 total “leaders” listed on the network’s website.
Mark Fogel, the senior managing director of HR — who the assessment had recommended be put in charge of retaining top employees — left Success late last year after two years.
Noel Leeson, one of the network’s executive vice presidents overseeing “network business operations,” left last summer after two years at Success.
Dennis McIntosh, Success’s chief financial officer, left the network last fall after nearly two years.
And Keri Hoyt, who served as the network’s longtime executive vice president of schooling — and who was regarded as one of Moskowitz’s most important deputies — left Success in October to run another education venture.
As consequential as any of those exits was the departure of the Success’s chief technology officer, Steven Gittleson, which followed a period of internal recrimination over the network’s floundering $20 million student data system, called SMS.
Ironically, it is as though SA management follows Teach for America (TFA) tow-year temporariness. If Eva tries to expand despite the turnover among her management, then she will not have external issues to blame for a future SA empire collapse.
If I consider only 2013 to 2016, four names consistently appear: CEO Moskowitz; Exec VP Judith (Jody) Friedman; Managing Director Jacqueline (Jackie) Albers, Sr. Managing Director Ann Powell; Managing Director Michele Vespi, and Emily Kim, Chief Legal Officer (2012)/Executive VP of Policy and Legal Affairs.
If I back up a year and consider 2012 to 2016, only two from the previous list remain: Moskowitz and Kim.
Back up one more year to consider 2011 to 2016, only one name remains:
Eva Moskowitz, CEO.
And therein lay another fatal issue to Moskowitz’s push to scale SA on the way to marketing SA as a brand:
Moskowitz exercises too much control in SA operations, so much so that SA survival without Moskowitz is a critical concern, as Shapiro notes:
THE RASH OF EXECUTIVE-LEVEL DEPARTURES HOLLOWED out what could have been the network’s pipeline of future leaders. Even before the departures, some executives at the network worried about Moskowitz’s outsize role in all aspects of Success’s operations.
“How about succession planning for Eva?” one employee asked in the risk assessment. “There may be a plan, but I am not clear where it is.”
That issue — labeled “Key Contributor” in the risk assessment — was classified as a “critical” threat to the network, meaning it could have “potentially irrecoverable impact” to Success, thereby resulting in “significant loss of stakeholder confidence,” and an “inability to continue normal operations across the enterprise.”
Moskowitz is toxic to SA, and she faces a no-win because of it: If she relinquishes control in order to brand SA, then SA will likely veer from the Moskowitz-driven, Moskowitz-controlled version that SA currently is. And if Moskowitz insists upon continued enmeshment in SA affairs, then she inadvertently guarantees that her SA network must remain considerably smaller than she would like– and that coveted “scaling” and “branding” will not occur.
Of course, SA is a nonprofit, and as such, CEO Moskowitz technically answers to the SA board, which actually has the authority to fire her if it believes that she is standing in the way of the well being of SA. Sure, the SA board members are Moskowitz’s pals, and it doesn’t seem likely that they would ever fire her.
But one never knows. Stranger things have happened– like StudentsFirst founder and fizzled ed reform vixen Michelle Rhee reinventing herself as Michelle Johnson, board member, Scott’s Miracle-Gro, and her StudentsFirst being almost wholly absorbed into another nonprofit. Good times.
As the years pass and internal shakiness of Moskowitz’s SA empire increasingly becomes public knowledge, the SA board might be forced to act for survival’s sake.
For now, she retains detrimental control.
Coming June 24, 2016, from TC Press: