Elizabeth Baker

ELIZABETH BAKER: Success abuses students, parents.

A Success Academy spokeswoman resigned as a form of protest against “racist and abusive” practices used by the controversial charter network.

“I am resigning because I can no longer continue working for an organization that allows and rewards the systemic abuse of students, parents, and employees,” Elizabeth Baker wrote in a resignation letter that was obtained by Chalkbeat June 23 and reported by The City.

'Detrimental' to Kids

“As the organization’s press associate, I no longer wish to defend Success Academy in response to any media inquiries,” the letter continued. “I do not believe that Success Academy has scholars’ best interests at heart, and I strongly believe that attending any Success Academy school is detrimental to the emotional well-being of children.”

Success Academy Executive Vice President for Public Affairs Ann Powell told Chalkbeat that Ms. Baker, who worked for the charter network for a year and four months, “never questioned [Success Academy] policies or culture, and even when she gave notice, did not voice any of the concerns that she wrote in her letter.”

More than 80 percent of Success students, which is the largest charter network in the city, are black and Latino. About half of the network’s Teachers and staff are white, which has contributed to complaints about the treatment of both parents and students.

Success Academy and its CEO, Eva Moskowitz, recently came under criticism for not responding quickly enough to the police killing of George Floyd. The charter network wrote a statement on Twitter four days after Mr. Floyd’s death, but on that same day Success Teacher Fabiola St. Hilaire, unaware of that post, emailed Ms. Moskowitz expressing her “shock” at the network’s silence.

Triggered Dispute

When Ms. Moskowitz responded that she was focused on the network’s “immediate needs” amid the shutdown, Ms. St. Hilaire posted the exchange on social media, prompting other race-related complaints from parents and staff, including claims that staff called 911 on disruptive students.

Success held several virtual several town halls on race after the complaints were posted.

“I was late, and I really regret that,” Ms. Moskowitz said of her reaction to Mr. Floyd’s death. “There was no attempt to be silent on the issue. I feel very, very strongly that black lives matter.”

But Ms. Baker noted that the town halls, which were organized to examine the role Success Academy played in the “ongoing pursuit of equal access and equal justice,” were “insulting to the intelligence of parents, educators and network employees,” because questions that were critical of the charter were rejected.

Ms. Powell stated that the network had to choose among the questions because there wasn’t enough time to address each one. She also noted that Success Academy "is very popular with families of color in New York City. Each year we continue to see such high demand for our schools, that we cannot accommodate all applicants."

A Magnet for Controversy

This is far from the first time Success has faced criticism and controversy, particularly when it comes to student discipline and race.

In 2017, the charter network’s then-Chairman Daniel Loeb came under fire when he wrote on social media that State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is black, and others “who pay fealty to powerful union thugs and bosses do more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.”

The post was a response to a Times account of a meeting between Governor Cuomo and Senate Democrats, in which Ms. Stewart-Cousins spoke up angrily after the Governor said that then-Sen. Jeff D. Klein of The Bronx, leader of the since-disbanded Independent Democratic Conference, understood the suburbs better than they did.

More inflammatory comments surfaced, including a 2016 post in which Mr. Loeb called the UFT “the biggest single force standing in the way of quality education and an organization that has done more to perpetuate poverty and discrimination against people of color than the KKK.”

Chastised But Not Fired

While Ms. Moskowitz called Mr. Loeb’s comments “indefensible and insensitive,” the charter network did not move to fire him. Mr. Loeb apologized for his comments and resigned from his position in July 2018.

Success Academy has also faced lawsuits alleging that it discriminated against students with disabilities after reports surfaced in 2015 that a Success Principal created a “Got to Go” list of students he wanted to be removed from the school for behavioral issues.

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