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Someone high-up on the staff of Eva Moskowitz’s charter chain leaked a treasure trove of documents to Politico NY. Among other things, the documents show that the charter chain spent over $700,000 to stage a political rally in Albany. Pretty unusual for a “public school.” Any superintendent or principal who closed the schools to take the children to a political rally would be fired in a New York minute. The leak included a risk assessment that describes challenges to the future of the organization, such as high teacher turnover and a $20 million investment in technology that didn’t pan out.
This is a bad hair week for Success Academy, and its PR firm will no doubt be working overtime. New York City’s Public Advocate, the #2 ranked official in the city, Letitia James, joined a lawsuit against Success Academy for bias against students with disabilities. This may be only a bump in the road, however, as SA has received permission to open another 8 charters in August.
Here is an excerpt from the story about the leak of internal documents:
The expressions of concern come as Moskowitz aims to harness tens of millions of dollars in public and private funds to expand the network from its current 34 schools, serving 11,000 students, to 100 schools and 50,000 students over the next decade. That ambitious plan is key to her broader aim of establishing Success as what the network describes as a “catalyst and national model for education reform efforts,” and a legitimate citywide competitor to the incumbent public school system….
The internal documents cited in this article illustrate some of the challenges that have already resulted from its early growth spurt to 30 schools, including considerable staff churn and uneven quality among schools within the network.
“Our network has mushroomed with giant departments, and yet we are always out of breath and can barely do the work to support 11,000 kids,” reads an internal memo on Success’s departmental goals for the 2015-2016 school year. “We certainly will not be able to support 50,000 kids in 100 schools unless we make dramatic changes and improvements.”
And in the risk assessment, a member of the senior management team expressed concern about at least the perception of a widening distance between management and teachers in the course of expansion.
“It is perceived that there is a lack of humanistic connections between upper management and employees,” said one of the interviewees.
“My colleagues and I would benefit from a better understanding of the rationale behind our strategic expansion,” a departing employee said in an exit interview, also obtained by POLITICO New York. “Do we want to prove that our model works across demographics? That there is high parent demand? That we are the solution for NYC? Knowing this will give authentic purpose to our work.”
But the risk most often cited by senior managers was the network’s ability to recruit and retain its existing staff, including school principals and top executives.
“We don’t have a qualified talent pool to fill the spots left by the departing school leaders,” said one executive in the risk assessment. “We are already in the territory of putting people in leadership role[s] who are not quite ready yet.”
“We are growing so quickly that it’s almost impossible to come up with a robust leader pipeline in order to ensure high-quality leadership for every new school,” said another.
Some of the comments in the risk assessment appeared to foresee an exodus from the organization’s top ranks.
“I am concerned about high-performing employees and executives being ‘poached out’ of this organization as we become more prominent in our branding,” said one senior leader. “It also leads to loss of tribal knowledge, creating a high stress environment.”
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….
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.”
There was also considerable concern expressed about the public relations appearance of the huge donations to the chain, especially given Moskowitz’s salary of nearly $600,000 and the chain’s 15-year lease on a Wall Street headquarters at a cost of $30 million.