Western Brooklyn

Business Insider Reporter ‘Pleasantly Surprised’ By Visit To Success Academy

Photo courtesy of Success Academy Bensonhurst/Facebook
Photo courtesy of Success Academy Bensonhurst/Facebook

There was a unexpectedly positive profile of our neighborhood’s branch of Success Academy (SA) — the controversial charter school franchise started by Eva Moskowitz — in Business Insider last week.

BI’s Abby Jackson took a deep look behind the scenes at the Bensonhurst school, which is co-located with Seth Low Intermediate School at 99 Avenue P, and it sounds very different from SAs in other parts of the city, which are occasionally accused of using draconian measures like yelling and humiliation to ensure high test scores.

The culture SA Bensonhurst, according to this profile, seems downright cheerful! Here are a few excerpts:

Throughout the school, there seemed to be a genuine sense of joy among the students, whether they were enmeshed in a math problem, or dancing in their elective class. Some of this may be attributable to the heavy emphasis on the need for play time at SA Bensonhurst.

Dant explained that, even in core subjects, there are dedicated times for “wiggle breaks” or “dance breaks” where students stop learning and are free to partake in some unstructured fun.

The pep and positivity in this school is actually pretty unbelievable:

When we stopped into a kindergarten science class in the midst of their computer programming unit, the teacher was praising a student for his work.

“I want to give a shout out to Jacob because he immediately wrote down his program,” the teacher said. “He’s not forgetting that programmers write, then try. Show some love.”

“Gooooo Jacob!” the students all responded in unison.

The kids also take yoga and ballet dance to the tune of Carly Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe”:

Next, we headed to elective classes which students signed up for according to their interests. In a yoga class, students stretched to calming, instrumental music.

“Take a deep breath in,” Ms. Vanszl instructed. She had them demonstrate downward dog, cat, and cow poses, and reminded them to find a spot on the carpet or the wall to help them balance.

Do you kids go to Success Academy? What has your experience been like? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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  1. Ah, yes! Electives in grammar school. How well I remember my early years, taking time away from the three R’s for yoga, or spin, or kazoo lessons. Kids come out of school these days barely knowing how to write a proper paragraph, or basic math, but the budget has time for electives in grammar school. How far we’ve come, and how far this generation won’t go because they lack a full education.

    The public schools have neither the time or budget for this sort of thing, but the City is willing to pay taxpayer money to charters for it. Our education system is doomed.

  2. I have a child in this school, and we love it. We were lucky to be accepted into both a local Gifted and Talented program and into Success Academy Bensonhurst, and we chose SA over the G&T primarily on the strength of it’s curriculum, student diversity and an active parent body.

    PRO’s of the school:

    – rich, custom curriculum (more info here: http://educationnext.org/what-explains-success-academy-charter-network/), which includes:

    — daily science starting in K,

    — two teachers in the classroom in K and 1st grade,

    — field trips every three weeks,

    – rich take-home book library in every classroom,

    – caring and intensely invested teachers

    – ability for parents to come and sit in during the classroom instruction

    – ability to hire teachers from a very large pool of applicants (albeit often less experienced, than in traditional schools)

    – ability to pay its teacher above market

    – ability to not renew the annual contract with lower-performing teachers

    – separation of roles between principals (focused exclusively on education and teacher training) and Business Operation Managers (runs the rest of the school)

    – very large amount of dedicated and structured teacher development and training time

    Success Academy Bensonhurst has a strong principal, Mr Dant, who, among other things, has been making excellent hiring decisions, adapted the school culture to the particular characteristics of the neighborhood and the student body (we are the most ethnically diverse school in the network), and has been open to parents’ feedback.

    The school is not for everyone, because it:

    – employs strict discipline

    – demands active parent involvement

    – has a very long school day

    – has a strong drive for academic performance

    Admission is by lottery, with the preference to school District 21 (and possibly, English Language Learners). As of the summer of 2015, this school had over 7 in-district applications per every open spot, so out of district applicants are less likely to be accepted.

    Applications to Success Academy schools are separate from applications to district public schools, so you can apply to Success Academy and to a traditional public school, in parallel.

    There is a virtual tour: http://virtualtour.successacademies.org/

    In-person tours start in late fall: http://successacademies.org/tours/

    To apply: http://successacademies.org/apply/

    There is a Bensonhurst / Gravesend-focused neighborhood Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/bensonhurstparentsandschools/ , that has lots of SA Bensonhurst parents, who are ready to answer questions and share their experiences

    There is also a SA Network-wide Facebook support group for prospective SA parents here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1612898088948011/ , also with many current SA parents, available to answer questions.

  3. Sean F, charter schools in NYC have less money, compared to DOE schools. In the case of Success Academy, charitable donations it receives are used to open new schools and to support the central network office. SA schools are run exclusively on the funding that comes from the DOE, which is a bit smaller, compared to DOE’s allocation for traditional public schools.

  4. I don’t doubt that SA or charters might not be doing a better job than the public schools, but that bar is not set very high. For me, the bottom line is that public schools are failing and overcrowded, but DOE can justify giving away space and money. If these schools can manage to offer electives with less money, then the public schools should be able to perform better. And if DOE finds that diverting space and funds to private educators, then it us time for real private school vouchers or tuition tax credits. This would allow even more students to have opportunities that the P.S. system can’t provide.

    Meanwhile, congratulations on having your child in a good program. I wish him or her much success.

  5. Thank you, Sean. I agree with you – traditional public schools in NYC should do better, but they have many challenges, one of which is the culture, where teacher seniority often rules over meritocracy.

    The other – the union contract is so detailed, that it micromanages every aspect of running a school, preventing innovation.

    Another – in most low income neighborhoods, traditional public schools are often of dismal quality, and there is widespread attitude that it is fine and can’t be helped, unless you first tackle poverty.

    No wonder so many young teachers in NYC leave the profession within the first 5 years.

    So when a school like Success Academy Bensonhurst has 7 in-district applications for every open Kindergarten spot, I don’t think of it as DOE diverting funds or space – to me, that is parents voting with their feet. These funds go towards educating the same neighborhood kids within the school district, and, if Success Academy with its General Ed students proves to be more popular than many zoned schools and gifted programs – well, it’s only fair that the funds follow the students. That benefits the parents and the kids.

  6. SABH is a wonderful school. The staff are amazing and friendly. My son Isaiah is the handsome young scholar in this photo and I am such a proud parent.I must say SABH has expanded my sons mind tramendslye. These young scholars have the opportunity to have fun and learn while their in class. I am so proud of the work that these teachers and scholars are doing. I look forward to all of their futures in the up coming years as SABH grows.Thank you SABH for given my son and all the scholars a chance at higher learning.

  7. Charter schools in DOE buildings receive comparable funding to public schools. You can see it in the report by IBO. The “less funding” is a myth.

  8. Isaiah looks like a fine young man. You should be very proud of him. I wish him and you all good things.

  9. Don’t get me started on teacher’s unions. When I was an adjunct in the CUNY system, I was forced to pay dues to one, despite not being allowed to actually join the union. They claimed that I had to pay because they had negotiated my contract, but they hadn’t. I had, and I got a better deal than the union members, Their ridiculous demands and behavior ultimately caused me to leave CUNY. Teacher’s unions do nothing except siphon money from hard-working teachers, force schools to retain unqualified teachers, oppose vouchers and credits that would permit people to get their kids out of over-crowded, failing public schools, all to enrich the union management, not the members.

  10. Why did this reporter visit a Success Academy school where over half the students are white and middle class and the suspension rates are near zero? Do you think those students are treated the way the students at Success Academy’s mostly low-income minority schools are treated? Recall that over 20% of those kids are given suspensions — can you imagine the violence going on in those schools? Or maybe those kids aren’t violent but simply targeted for suspension for not being academic enough like all the nice white middle class kids in Bensonhurst. But it’s interesting that this reporter picked one of the whitest and most affluent Success Academy schools to visit. And as she made very clear, the students who attend are treated in a manner that they believe those kinds of children (and their college educated parents) deserve.

  11. “When a school like Success Academy Bensonhurst has 7 in-district applications for every open Kindergarten spot…”

    So I guess if we find a single out of district child attending the school, we will know there is corruption in the lottery? Or that 9 of 10 in-district kids who submitted an application chose NOT to go (or their parents were dissuaded from going because they didn’t really “fit”)? Are you willing to go on record and claim that there are no out of district students in the Bensonhurst school? And are you willing to admit that if an audit finds even one out of district student, that there is something corrupt in the process? Since obviously there are 6 in-district students for every 1 who gets in waiting for their chance at the school and yet an out of district kid gets in?

  12. the school “has a strong drive for academic performance”. So therefore they “aren’t for everyone??” Do you even realize how outrageous that is? Do you think local public schools don’t have a strong drive for academic performance? The only difference is that they don’t get to shed the kids who also don’t have that drive. Unfortunately, it happens to be illegal to shed those kids and even to make them feel unwanted, so I suggest you might want to re-write that before the SA PR people see what you are claiming. Also “demands active parent involvement”! That is ALSO illegal because charter schools are supposed to serve at-risk kids, not the ones whose parents can commit to “active parent involvement”. Really, I suggest you re-write this because you aren’t helping Success but just making them look sleazy.

  13. The more educated parents don’t necessarily want to be involved in the school. They don’t want half days or to shake hands at pick up. They are not interested in having to lean in at an elementary school when they are trying to get ahead at work.

  14. Hi Sean, My stepdaughter went through one of the DOE elementary schools in Bensonhurst, and it seemed half her day was reading and half her day was math. They had gym once a month and rarely went to recess. The school did have a music program. It was one of the bright spots in her day. For all the time spent on math, she still couldn’t do math. If it weren’t for the electives, I don’t know that she would have even gotten to middle school let alone high school. Charters aren’t ruining the system.

  15. Not sure of your point. Mine is that Success Academy Bensonhurst is over 50% white and over 50% middle class. It barely suspends any of their 5 and 6 year olds and the reporter found that the students are treated very nicely. It’s a shame she didn’t visit one of the Success Academy schools where over 20% of the 5 and 6 year olds are suspended by their teachers who found so many of them to be far too violent to be allowed to stay in school. Of course, those schools are nearly 90% poor and have almost no middle class white students. Maybe that’s how they get away with labeling so many students in those schools violent at age 6 and having no one questioning it. Certainly not this reporter.

  16. Madeline, just to be clear: I don’t think charters are ruining the system. The system is ruined already. What charters are is an example of what DOE could do with the resources it already has, if DOE cared to do it. Why should DOE give away space when the public schools are overcrowded? Why should they give money to charters that are taking up their space, instead of backing vouchers and tax credits for families who take their kids out of public schools and thereby help alleviate overcrowding?

    It’s all politics and cronyism. It has nothing to do with the students, which is what education should always be about.

  17. Firstly, there are too many things wrong with both your mindset, narrative and overall lack of factual information in this article and it starts with your initial assertion that somehow donating to a school is seen as some sort of actual, tangible ‘investment’ (it’s not, at least not pertaining to ANY Success School here in NYC).

    All SA Schools are co-located buildings, in PUBLIC schools located within the 5 boroughs of the City. Here’s an insane fact: public schools are *gasp* owned by the CITY OF NEW YORK, and NOT privately owned. There goes the whole ‘these schools are paying rent back to their donor overlords!!’ argument, but then again, ‘there’s surely more to that than just a rent-kick back scheme’!!

    Secondly, and I know this is a CRAZZZZZZZY concept, but apparently the tax codes and laws here in the good ol USA give tax breaks to people DONATING to charity. God forbid these ‘greedy, money sucking’ organizations like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Green Peace, UNICEF and countless other CHARITABLE organizations who offer TAX breaks as this CRAZY notion of an incentive, in order to drive funding since otherwise they would get only a portion of what they receive. It’s soooooooooooooo corrupt how donating works in the US right? It’s almost like the Government wants to drive home incentives for those fortunate enough to have the means to donate untold and enormous sums of money to causes. Crazy, stupid notion, this idea of donating…..

    Thirdly, the ‘tax credit will make all these donors rich and line their pockets!!’. Ah yes, another hot take narrative. Let’s point and look at how these billionaires (…with a B) are ‘enriching’ themselves via tax breaks while donating to an educational cause, while ignoring the fact that oh I don’t know.. they’re BILLIONAIRES. These people are the top 1%, of the 1%, of the 1% of the 1%. They run the fucking world. These men could comfortably lose hundreds of millions, entire generations worth of wealth, in a fortnight and wake up still atop of the 1%, of the 1%, of the 1%, of the 1%.

    You want to link how them taking and writing off a few millions in tax credits is part of this ‘New World Order’ spew and narrative that you’re falsely driving home? How these men – who have 10 zeroes in their bank accounts – are ‘gaming’ the system with these ‘corrupted donations’? And the idea and fact that maybe -JUST MAYBE- some of them have made so much money, more money than one can spend in 500 generations, MIGHT just want to give some of it back to a good cause?

    I don’t know, you tell me.

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