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Today, I Visited Success Academy Upper West

June 16, 2016

Sort of.

I am on vacation. (That is why my posting has been rather slim of late.) One of my jaunts took me briefly to the Met (the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art).

I did not want to leave New York without seeing a Success Academy school. So, I googled, “Success Academy closest to the Met” and came up with Success Academy (SA) Upper West, 145 W. 84th Street.

After about a 20 minute walk, I stood in front of 145 W. 84th Street: Louis Brandeis High School.

I was not completely surprised by this; the SA Upper West website states that the school location as “second floor.” And indeed, it is located on the second floor of the four-story Brandeis High School building.

In case there were any doubt about SA location, the signs taped every few feet on the outside of the school, “SA uniform fitting,” complete with arrows of direction, assured me that I was in the right place– that and the nationally-known New York reality of charter school co-location in public school buildings.

Still, I was surprised that an elementary charter would be co-located in a high school.

I had come this far; I thought, why not see what happens if I request a visit?

It took me a moment to make up my mind. The Brandeis building had three security officers at the entrance, checking IDs, signing individuals in, and scanning belongings.

I told one of the security personnel that I am a Louisiana teacher on vacation, and I wondered if I might visit SA Upper West. The second security officer rang the school to see if someone would come down to speak with me. It took a few tries and several minutes, but someone finally did emerge.

While I was waiting, a number of young adults entered the building carrying tables and other materials in preparation for the evening’s uniform fitting.

One was even carrying the required SA LL Bean book bag as he was checking in with security.

I was able to slyly get a picture (click image to enlarge):

SA book bag

Right after I snapped the photo, a young woman appeared before me. She was from SA Upper West. I told her that I am a Louisiana teacher on vacation and that I was interested in visiting SA Upper West. She replied that SA does not allow visitors other than parents.

I asked her if I could ask her a few questions, to which she replied in some version of “we’ll see” (not exact words, but guarded, noncommittal sentiment definitely present). I asked about the school: “So, this school was established in 2011?” (I had just read this moments before on the school website.) She awkwardly responded that she did not know what year the school was founded, that she had only been with SA Upper West for a year.

I asked what her position was, and she said something that I neither readily understood nor remember. (She later gave me her card, which has her title as “community relations coordinator,” but this is not the title she mentioned to me. What she mentioned might have been the less descriptive term, “organization management.”) I asked if she were an administrator, and she said yes, though I don’t think she believed that title fit. (She was not a principal but a PR person.)

I then asked if she had been a teacher. The question seemed to stun her. I quickly followed up with, “At SA. Had you been a teacher at SA [before becoming an administrator]?” She said no, that she was not a teacher.

Here is where I found our exchange the most interesting because of her visible negative reaction to what I said next. Trying to explain why I asked if she had been a teacher, I said, “I am a Louisiana public school teacher, and usually, administrators were first teachers.”

Immediately after I said, “I am a Louisiana public school teacher,” her face dropped in what seemed to be disapproval. She responded, “We are a public school.” It is true that in my thinking, I draw a distinction between charter schools funded with public money and traditional public schools, and that in my schema, the term “public school” applies to the latter. So, maybe my calling myself a public school teacher automatically set off a “charters are public schools” defense.

No traditional public school that I know of hires PR people.

The young woman I spoke with, Gabriella Scull, graduated from college in 2013. She worked at Target for four months, then with the American Cancer Society for a year and a half, and as of July 2015, she is officially an SA community relations coordinator.

Here is an April 2015 ad for the position of SA community relations coordinator:

Responsibilities:

Responsibilities for this highly visible member of the School Operations team include:

  • As the first point of contact, representing Success Academies (SA) by answering phones, greeting visitors, and handling a wide variety of family and scholar concerns on a daily basis in a professional manner.
  • Creating and distributing high quality, error-free parent communication, including weekly newsletters, recorded calls, calendars, and flyers.
  • Playing an integral role in planning and executing off-site scholar trips, in-school assemblies and family academic events.
  • Tracking scholar and school-wide data, including scholar attendance, behavior, and other achievements/infractions; creating systems that support school leaders and families in meeting network-wide school culture goals.
  • Serving as the staff advisor on the Parent Council executive board and oversee all Parent Council activities.
  • Managing the collection, and ongoing maintenance of all scholar records and files, using various tools such as Excel and our online scholar information system.
  • Developing and maintaining a relationship with the school nurse/school-based department of health staff to ensure that all medications and medical records are properly maintained.

Qualifications:

The ideal candidate for this position must have a Bachelor’s Degree and a high level of professionalism, flexibility, and enthusiasm.

The candidate must demonstrate competency in the following areas:

  • Hospitality. Employs diplomacy at all times, including interactions that are positive as well as those requiring conflict resolution.
  • Organization. Manages multiple projects and deadlines, and succeed in a fast-paced, rapidly changing work environment.
  • Problem-solving. Approaches challenges in creative ways and find thoughtful solutions to problems.
  • Creating Systems. Demonstrates ability to create, implement, and maintain systems for operational excellence. Incorporates various perspectives when creating or improving a system and/or training other staff to use it.
  • Communication. Creates error-free written communication and presentations that address a variety of audiences. Audiences include government officials, vendors, school staff, parents, and scholars.
  • Technology. Ability and willingness to learn and support various systems. Proficiency with Microsoft Office is a must. Experience with SalesForce/ procurement systems, student information databases, and/or ATS is a plus.

Once our conversation had reached the point at which Scull stated to me that SA is a public school, she had apparently decided that it was time to end the conversation. She had done her job. She had appeared before me, the “visitor” of sorts; she had guarded SA and its reputation during our conversation (which was clearly a communication between individuals from two very different worlds); she had handed me her card and told me that if I had any further questions, I could visit the school website (the same website that clearly states the founding year as 2011 and that Scull apparently had not read herself) or contact her by email (there is no need to do so, really), and she then excused herself to return to the many meetings that she had scheduled (which is probably true, given that Scull works for Eva Moskowitz).

It was an interesting exchange. I wish I had caught on film Scull’s sudden alteration of expression once I clarified that I was not only a Louisiana teacher but a Louisiana public school teacher.

I wonder if she enjoys her job.

Nothing in Scull’s demeanor toward me– a member of the public– confirms as much.

She was tolerant and polite, but not engaging and inviting. Scull displayed no pride in her school. She is not even aware simple details related to its history.

On Scull’s Facebook page, she has an entry dated July 13, 2015, and that reads, “Had an amazing first day of work orientation! Looking forward to day two!” above this spread of new SA employee goodies (LL Bean book bag included) (click image to enlarge):

SA goodies

I wonder if she still looks forward to her SA work.

Exuding genuine pride in one’s students is the best PR.

Arriving at the door to politely tell would-be visitors to bug off, not so much.

___________________________________________________________

Coming July 08, 2016, from TC Press (revised release date):

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Stay tuned.

 

***

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

15 Comments
  1. Bill Erickson permalink

    Hi Mercedes –

    Always enjoy your thoroughly-researched posts, but felt uncomfortable with your ‘accidental tourist’ approach in this scenario. Not unexpectedly you were fully armed and loaded with predisposed (and justifiable) concerns about SA, but taking advantage of, and drawing conclusions from the plight of a hapless employee seems more like stealth journalism.

    Just saying…

    Thanks for all you do.

    Bill

    • Hi, Bill. Thanks for commenting.

      Scull was hired to be a public face (defender enforcer) for SA. I do not view her as hapless, but I do believe she is unhappy.

      I have no problem with either my actions or this post.

    • Stephen Fryer permalink

      Thoroughly researched? Sounds more like virtual stalking of a young girl.

      And does your school not have an office receptionist?

      • This young woman is not an office receptionist.

        Our receptionist could (and would) engage in lengthy, informed conversation regarding the history of our school. And for her to declare that our school allows no visitors except parents would be considered bizarre, as it should.

        Call it virtual stalking if you like. What my search reveals is that this PR hire has no background in education and barely any professional work history, yet she is SA Upper West’s PR person– its public face.

      • Jack permalink

        I’m going to continue the cyberstalking (seriously, what a silly accusation … shame on the guy who tried to make it.)

        What I find interesting about Ms. Scull is the contrast between …

        … the ideas and values related to one of her past positions of employment (AUTISM SPEAKS)

        and

        … the ideas and values, as well as the ethos and actions of those in charge of her current place of employment (SUCCESS ACADEMY)

        BACKGROUND — Success Academy leader Eva Moskowitz and her fellow Success Academy brass such as Paul Fucularo do not even believe in the existence of Special Ed. disabilities. Success Academy administrator Paul Fucaloro is a man whom Eva publicly touted as her primary role model as both an educator and administrator. Fucaloro claims that any alleged disability ascribed to a child was or is just the result of bad parenting. He also claims that a primary goal of Success Academy is to turn children into “little test-taking machines.”

        https://dianeravitch.net/2015/11/23/paul-fucaloro-director-of-pedagogy-at-success-academy-charter-schools-on-children-as-little-test-taking-machines/

        For the money quote from Fucaloro, a quote that shows how Success Academy leaders view and treat special ed. children, go to this otherwise celebratory article: (7th paragraph on the page)

        http://nymag.com/news/features/65614/index4.html
        —————————–
        “At Harlem Success, ‘disability’ is a dirty word.

        “ ‘I’m not a big believer in special ed,’ Fucaloro says. For many children who arrive with individualized education programs, or IEPs, he goes on, the real issues are ‘maturity and undoing what the parents allow the kids to do in the house—usually mama—and I reverse that right away.’

        “When remediation falls short, according to sources in and around the network, families are counseled out. ‘Eva told us that the school is not a social-service agency,’ says the Harlem Success teacher. ‘That was an actual quote.’ ”
        ——————————

        However, Eva must put some credence in a special ed. disability diagnoses. Indeed, whenever any parent of a diagnosed special ed. child (i.e. one who has an I.E.P.) shows up at her door — after winning the Success Academy lottery — Eva or one of her underlings turns away both the parent and child.

        “We can’t accommodate your child.” or in other words, “Get lost!”

        For example, this video from a parent describing such an experience is telling:

        ———

        JAYBEE SMALLEY: “My name is Jaybee Smalley. I’m a parent, yes. I have two children with special needs. I have one child who I applied to the Harlem Success Academy through the lottery process to see if she could be… would be accepted.

        “When she WAS accepted through the lottery, I reached out to them (Harlem Success Academy) before I attended any sort of a orientation to see if they would be able to accommodate her I.E.P. She has a 12-to-1-to-1 I.E.P. for a year-round program, with four different related services.

        “They didn’t respond to me through email at all.. and finally, after the second meeting had come, I called them —- I had a very difficult time getting through to them —- Before I could get the words ’12-to-1-to-1′ out of my mouth, they immediately told me that they would absolutely not be able to accommodate that sort of child in their school.”
        ——————————

        That’s the organization that Ms. Scull is now being paid to defend in the media, and promote to the public.

        However, check out this contradiction.

        Ms. Scull once worked for, and indeed, was a Founder and Chapter President for AUTISM SPEAKS, an organization that fights for the rights and well-being of those children afflicted with autism.

        This is from her LinkedIn page:

        https://www.linkedin.com/in/gabriella-scull-b3502640
        ————–
        “(Ms. Scull) Founded campus chapter, drafted the constitution and gained campus affiliation. Recruited approximately 70 active student participants at campus student group recruitment events. Managed a 10 person executive board; ran chapter and executive meetings to promote advocacy, fundraising and follow up. Led fundraising efforts for Autism Speaks U chapter raising over $3,000 for the 2012-2013 school year. Primary liaison between Binghamton University and the national office of Autism Speaks. Created email listserv of approximately 120 students; Utilized and oversaw social media outlets to network, publicize chapter.”
        ————-

        Now go to the AUTISM SPEAKS website, and you find total compassion for those with autism — the same children Eva and her fellow leaders at S.A. want nothing to do with:

        https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism
        ————————————–
        “Each individual with autism is unique. Many of those on the autism spectrum have exceptional abilities in visual skills, music and academic skills. About 40 percent have average to above average intellectual abilities. Indeed, many persons on the spectrum take deserved pride in their distinctive abilities and “atypical” ways of viewing the world. Others with autism have significant disability and are unable to live independently.

        “About one third of people with ASD are nonverbal but can learn to communicate using other means. Autism Speaks’ mission is to improve the lives of all those on the autism spectrum. For some, this means the development and delivery of more effective treatments that can address significant challenges in communication and physical health. For others, it means increasing acceptance, respect and support.

        “Resources: We are pleased to offer many resource-packed tool kits for free download (here and here), including the 100 Day Kit for families who have a child recently diagnosed with autism. For still more information and resources please see our Video Glossary and FAQs and special sections on Diagnosis, Symptoms, Learn the Signs, Treatment, Your Child’s Rights, Asperger Syndrome and PDD-NOS. These resources are made possible through the generous support of our families, volunteers and other donors.”
        ————————————–

        On the one hand, Ms. Scull once fought for (and perhaps still does fight for) the rights and well-being of children afflicted with autism, yet she is now working for and promoting an organization that, figuratively speaking, sh-ts all over those same children.

        What kind of salary is Ms. Scull now pulling down?

        Or to put it another way …

        How much do souls go for nowadays?

  2. Hope you enjoyed your stay in NYC, Mercedes. I like that you attempted to see SA, first hand. Kind of like a visit to the Statue of Liberty, but with a less grandiose title and image. I’ve been living here for a long time and, like many native New Yorkers) have never visited the Statue of Liberty (or SA, for that matter).

    met this guy while I was cycling who, it turns out, writes those incredibly annoying computer programs that create advertising popups.

    He was very apologetic, but said he’s got to pay off those college loans and the job market’s tight.

    I wonder if Ms Scull is in the same boat.

  3. And she is getting paid how much ???

  4. lisa permalink

    Would have enjoyed this visit contrast to a public school visit in the same neighborhood.

  5. Mercedes,

    You’ve presented an interesting view point here, considering you were not given access to see the inner workings of an SA school. Your questioning of Scull’s happiness is spot on, she’s probably not. I know first hand, happiness is not a priority in SA, classroom teacher or not.

    I detail my experience in an entry on my blog here: http://www.nuyoricanwriter.com/educator/
    in case you’d like to read my first hand account of teaching at a SA school.

    Great blog!

    Sincerely,
    Sasha G.

  6. Yes, in 2009 I was working for in New Orleans (NOLA to all the new inhabitants) for Educational Talent Search, one of the TRIO college-readiness programs, and visited Sojourner Truth Academy (Charter School). Not only did they have a bunch of scantily clad TFA’s parading around in front of inner-city Black kids (their idea of a school reform model), but they also had a young girl, whom in May 2009 was wrapping up her collegiate volleyball career, and in July 2009 was the Director of Special Ed at said charter school. How?????

  7. Jack permalink

    “Not only did they have a bunch of scantily clad TFA’s parading around in front of inner-city Black kids … ”

    Yeah, but what about the female TFA’s?

  8. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    In case you missed this.
    AN EDUCATION REFORM MANIFESTO: The Center for Education Reform released a “manifesto” this week responding to a reform movement that the advocacy group says is in crisis. Nowhere is that more apparent than in New Orleans, the group’s founder Jeanne Allen writes [http://bit.ly/1Q8uv3O ]. “For education reformers – the people who dreamed of remaking not only schools, but reimagining school districts and entire education systems – New Orleans reminds us what is possible,” she writes. But now the New Orleans revolution is unraveling, she writes. “Instead of being feted and replicated, the path breaking and life-changing Recovery School District is being assaulted from all sides by the opponents of change,” Allen writes. “Even worse, in the name of ‘local control’ the fate of the charter sector is about to be put in the hands of an institution – the school board – which historically opposes giving any power to schools and autonomy to individual school leaders. This is the same structure, by the way, which doomed New Orleans students to violent and chronically failing schools before Katrina.” CER is redoubling its efforts to focus on innovation and opportunity, leveraging media and attracting new advocates to the cause. The manifesto: http://bit.ly/1W1Cjph.

  9. I value and respect much of what Mercedes has focused her critical energies on in the last 3-4 years. You are an important voice. However this post was utter nonsense. If we want to examine SA model seriously and you want to dissect its inner working then do so. A visit such as this means nothing. I have visited hundreds of schools in NYC and gotten much worse treatment and left with much greater feeling of angst about the operation, its employees, their curriculum and teaching, the obvious chaos – and this is when I’ve managed to actually walk through and observe (most schools don’t even allow a prospective parent to do a site visit. Lets suppose this is true – that this employee was clueless and terribly unhappy – she just joins the 50% of the workforce that feels that way! Moreover its irrelevant – an organization, any, shouldn’t be judge by some unhappy, clueless employee!

    • This was not just some clueless, unhappy employee. This was someone hired expressly as the public face for that school. That alone makes the post worthwhile.

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  1. A Success Academy Teacher Hangs in for 6 Months, Then Enough. | deutsch29

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