Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Hudson Yards Success charter parents to Eva Moskowitz: The school "broke our children’s spirit and erased their self confidence in less than 3 weeks".

Ben Chapman of the Daily News reported yesterday that a group of parents whose children attend a new Hudson Yards middle school in the Success Academy charter network is protesting the rigid and abusive disciplinary methods of the network.  The school opened this year and enrolls about 200 students in grades 5 and 6, to be expanded to 480 students through eighth grade in future years.

The school is sited in a high-rise building on the far West Side of Manhattan.  The space also houses a Success charter elementary school and the Success Academy Education Institute, established to train teachers from throughout the country in the Success techniques.  The two schools in the building are supposed to serve as "lab schools" for the Institute. The commercial space in the mixed use tower was acquired for $68 million by Success in December 2016.  

Harlem Success Middle School students
The full letter from Hudson Yard parents to Eva Moskowitz, the Success CEO, is reprinted below, and describes how the principal and faculty at the school "broke our children’s spirit and erased their self confidence in less than 3 weeks." Many of the specific practices outlined below have been reported by parents at other Success charter schools.

From: Hudson Yards Parents
Date: Tue, Oct 10, 2017 at 8:25 AM
Subject: Concerns regarding Hudson Yards
Dear Eva and SA Board of Trustees,

We are a large group of parents from Hudson Yards Middle School who are outraged by Principal Russell’s policies and treatment of our children.

Eva Moskowitz and family crashing a Success protest last year
Last week we met with Principal Russell to voice our concerns and these are the issues and specific incidents that were discussed:

HYSA faculty broke our children’s spirit and erased their self confidence in less than 3 weeks.
Our children who once loved the SA, who were proud of being a part of a great school, rallied in Albany and other events, now simply no longer want to go to school.

Some of our children are getting physically sick, experiencing meltdowns, vomiting, having nightmares and/or having sleepless nights and are unable to concentrate etc. Some of our children have even requested to be homeschooled although they had been award winners and popular last year.

Intimidation and Detention of the scholars: Since school started most of the scholars were detained at least once for reasons that can hardly justify such an extreme measure. Examples:

•  Not locking their hands
•  Not completing homework that was confusing, in some cases assignments not even given to them in the first place
•  For unintentionally and/or accidentally breaking wind or burping in the classroom
•  On October 2, 2017 approximately 50% of the school was detained
•  Some parents were informed about the detention 1 hour before it took place

Teaching style and methodologies:

•  Inattentive and careless: teachers are not actually teaching, but acting similar to traffic policemen (directing traffic and giving tickets). They consistently give misleading instructions without explanations, references or textbooks; we, the parents are helpless. Some instructions that were recently given were grammatically incorrect and could not even be completed
•  Overwhelmed staff: there are multiple documented examples of teachers who appeared so stressed that parents could not get a coherent answer to simple Yes or No questions
•  Vindictive: scholars were told they “need to stop whining to their parents”.

After spending many hours struggling with the Chromebook, a family sent an email to the teacher and tech leader expressing frustration. The following morning as if in retaliation for complaining, the teacher confiscated the Chromebook and told the scholar "You lost your Chromebook privileges" and now you have to work on paper. Teachers stop at nothing to shame, publicly humiliate and embarrass the scholars

•  Negligent: advisor is not even aware of the services scholars with IEPs are supposed to get, although the IEP was discussed with them.

Above mentioned issues are mostly generic, however 2 personal stories from Thursday, October 5, 2017 night were particularly disturbing:

1. A terminally ill mother was trying her best to acclimate her daughter to the Hudson Yards Middle School community to be her second home. The future may turn out to be just like that. Unfortunately, the scholar’s grandfather passed away shortly after school started and the mother provided the school with her precise travel plans for the funeral. As the scholar’s grandfather was lowered into the ground, the mother received a phone call from her teacher but instead of condolences and support, this teacher demanded speaking about uncompleted homework.

2. A devoted mother expressed her concerns about the school in her email to her advisory group, CCing Principal Russell. Immediately after her email was received, Principal Russell phoned her attempting to scare her from sending such mass emails. The mother refused to be bullied in such manner and ended the call. Principal Russell kept calling her repeatedly. It seems that controlling information was more urgent to him than addressing feedback.


Some parents were able to have what appeared to be a productive conversation with Principal Russell but not much has changed.
Some parents NEVER got a chance to talk to Principal Russell, after repeatedly asking to do so.
Some parents feel intimidated by Principal Russell for speaking up and conferring with other parents.
Teachers at HYMS have not yet  provided families with their classmates parent’s contacts, unlike what other SA schools did at the beginning of the academic year.
Having a playdate or a study group to help scholars to adjust to their new environment could have been very beneficial, however Principal Russell prefered all communications to be undisclosed so we were not privy to any requests and discussions. We as parents want to teach our children to engage in open and productive discussions and not be driven by fear to do so.


Staff demonstrates ZERO awareness and concern for what they are causing families with their disturbing their end of school-day pickup plans.
The staff do not care or understand that: having to leave work unexpectedly can cause somebody to lose their job.
Parents who have children in multiple schools simply cannot pick up one child without creating unsafe and emotionally stressful situations for any of their children.
To have a 10 year old child standing on the street waiting to be picked up, while parents are  fighting traffic is extremely dangerous. The school’s location makes it a perfect spot to abduct a child and disappear into Lincoln tunnel in less than a minute.
There is a homeless shelter located just across a street from the school, housing single men. Individuals who stay in this shelter have to be out by 9am every day and are not allowed back in before 4:30pm; these hours coincide with our children’s school day.

I hope you understand that our only objective here is to create an enjoyable and productive school environment for our children and not war against the SA network. It would be a loss to everyone if somebody were to use this as a factor in not providing SA additional space for its Middle Schools.
I hope you will choose to act quickly and rectify the situation for everyone’s benefit and avoid yet another public scandal as there is evidence for all written above.

We are not signing our names at this point to prevent retaliation; Principal Russell knows only some of us by name and many parents were afraid to be seen at the meeting fearing retaliation.

Our feeling is that Principal Russell’s one year of experience managing Cobble Hill 5th grade (Middle School that since then was discontinued) may not have sufficiently prepared him for jump starting a new Middle School. At this point in time there is so much bad blood between the parents and the principal, a new jump start is a necessity for this school to succeed.

We must have an experienced leader, an educator who can motivate and unify the scholars as opposed to terrifying them and destroying their self confidence.

We want a school for our children where they cannot only thrive but blossom into successful and productive adults.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

NPE conference Oct. 14-15; please come if you can!

There are only about thirty seats left for our annual Network for Public Education conference, this year in Oakland CA from Oct. 14-15.  If you've never been before to an NPE conference, you are missing something terrific. We have some fabulous keynote speakers, pictured to the right. In addition, you can check out the schedule of workshops.

I'll be moderating two panels: One on the myths and reality of online learning, along with Mark Miller, the former President of the PA School Board Association and Marla Kilfoyle, the Executive Director of the Badass Teachers Association.

I'll also be doing a workshop on the fight for children's privacy, with Rachael Stickland of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and Josh Golin of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

Please come and share with friends and colleagues, especially those who live in the Bay Area.