Success Academy Fort Greene Is Among Charter Schools Allegedly Forcing Students Out

Success Academy Fort Greene Is Among Charter Schools Allegedly Forcing Students Out
Photo courtesy of Del Scorcho.
Photo courtesy of Del Scorcho.

The latest controversy to enter the discourse over New York City’s charter schools comes courtesy of the New York Times, which ran a story about Success Academy administrators creating literal lists of students who have “Got To Go” and then allegedly harassing parents or punishing those students until they withdrew. Among those schools? Success Academy Fort Greene.

Success Academy Fort Greene (101 Park Avenue) principal Candido Brown is accused in the report of threatening to call 9-1-1 on a six-year-old girl and including her on a list of 16 students who have “Got To Go.”

Nine of the students on the list later withdrew from the school. Some of their parents said in interviews that while their children attended Success, their lives were upended by repeated suspensions and frequent demands that they pick up their children early or meet with school or network staff members. Four of the parents said that school or network employees told them explicitly that the school, whose oldest students are now in the third grade, was not right for their children and that they should go elsewhere.
The current and former employees said they had observed similar practices at other Success schools, [including] school leaders and network staff members explicitly talk[ing] about suspending students or calling parents into frequent meetings as ways to force parents to fall in line or prompt them to withdraw their children.

Brown — the third principal at Success Academy Fort Greene in one year — defended his list and actions in an email to the Times, writing that “I felt I couldn’t turn the school around if these students remained.”

He added that “if the school had been better managed from the start, then we could have done better by these students and probably could have kept more of them. . . However, it is also the case that for some of them, Success wasn’t the best place. Some of them needed an alternative setting with highly specialized services. And some parents just didn’t agree with our philosophy.”

Success Academy spokesperson Ann Powell, however, was both critical and defensive of Brown and other Success administrators’ behavior. She called Brown’s “Got To Go” list a mistake that led to him being reprimanded. But she also defended what she described as “actually an attempt to help parents find the right environment for their children” because some students may require special education services — which Success Academy does not provide.

Success Academy and other charter school systems have long been accused by critics of bolstering their achievement statistics by not enrolling or weeding out any students with special needs and Individualized Education Programs/Plans (IEPs), and who are not already high-achieving and need more attention.

They are also criticized for their use of suspensions on kindergarteners on up for anything from bad posture to not obeying a teacher or throwing a tantrum.

Suspensions at Success, which typically last one or two days, are frequent compared with traditional public schools. In the 2012-13 school year, the most recent one for which state data is available, Success schools suspended between 4 percent and 23 percent of their students at least once, with most suspending more than 10 percent. According to the most recent statistics from the city’s Education Department, from 2013-14, traditional public schools suspended 3 percent of students that academic year.

SA Fort Greene parents in the Times story include those who reported being pressured out and those who still appreciate the school’s efforts.

Folake Wimbish, whose son has ADHD and was suspended 19 times in the first grade last year for  “hitting, kicking, biting and spitting at other children and adults,” claims that when she requested an evaluation for special education services, she was met by SA’s lawyers and special education manager, who told her to “put him in another school because he’s suffering.” Wimbish’s son now attends PS 119 in Flatlands, reportedly with no issues.

On the other hand, mom Aisha Cooper said that while her second grade son has struggled to keep his eyes on the teacher and stop talking in class, and was suspended in kindergarten for throwing a snow globe — leading to the teacher suggesting that the school might not be a good fit — she “never felt as if the school wanted him gone.”

But when a reporter asked if she knew that her son had been included last year on the “Got to Go” list, Ms. Cooper said she did not.
“I’m a little upset about that,” she said after a minute. “They could have let me know he was on a list that he ‘had to go.’ And I would have asked them why, because he’s not a bad child. He just talks too much sometimes.

On the heels of the Times report, Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz announced that she may sue the Department of Education (DOE) to force them to pay for pre-K programming at her schools while barring the DOE from overseeing the pre-K. Currently, the DOE is requiring all charter schools — privately-run, publicly-funded, often publicly-housed schools that are not overseen by the DOE despite being funded by them — sign a contract for DOE-overseen pre-K services before the city grants them the year’s funding.

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