Today, I Visited Success Academy Upper West
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):
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 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.
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):
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):