Saturday, February 25, 2023

Success Academy's aggressive expansion efforts despite falling enrollment, their questionable "waiting lists" and over $13 million per year spent on marketing

Success Academy internal marketing firm
The Success Academy Creative Agency

One of the political weapons that charter chains & their hypesters in the media like the NY Post repeat like a mantra to support the push to expand their schools and eliminate the NYC cap on charters is their dubious claim that there are thousands of kids on their waiting lists.  (E

For many reasons one should doubt the reality and relevance of these claims. As Chalkbeat points out, 58% of NYC charter schools lost enrollment over the past three years; and 45% lost enrollment in the last year. This includes the most aggressively expansionist charter chain in NYC, Success Academy, whose enrollment has fallen by 7.7% in the last year.

Moreover, as our charter school presentation and draft resolution explain, the claims of high demand and long waiting lists at charter schools are unconfirmed by any independent audits and likely include many duplicates. 

As to Success Academy, a research study revealed that only about 50 percent of the students who win the lottery to attend one of their schools choose to enroll, making the significant of what it means to be on one of their waiting lists even more dubious. 

In addition, the network was still desperately urging more families to apply to their schools through October of the current school year, revealing a shortage of students. They also recruit students outside the city for their charter schools, suggesting a lack of demand in NYC.

Perhaps one of Success' biggest problems in keeping their seats full is their high rates of attrition, with 75%  of students leaving from Kindergarten on; and about 50% of those students who even make it to high school departing before graduation, according to analyses done by Gary Rubinstein.  

In any case, in their determined effort to persuade as many families as possible to apply, whether or not they really intend to enroll, Success Academy has a whole team focused on recruitment. See this job posting for a "Scholar Recruiter" to join the "Scholar Recruitment Team," managed by the "Lead of Scholar Recruitment" and "reporting to a Senior Scholar Recruiter".: 

.... the Scholar Recruiter will execute field outreach programs and promotional activities in individually assigned New York City regional markets. A Scholar Recruiter will often be the first touchpoint to Success Academy for prospective families, making this team a critical contributor toward reaching our enrollment goals.

One of the many responsibilities of this "Scholar Recruiter" is to " Identify, initiate, and maintain relationships with community based organizations (CBO’s) to develop CBO-to-Success Academy pipelines, identify Success Academy as the premier educational choice in the community, and cement Success Academy as a member of the community."

The following metrics will be used to evaluate their performance:

Scholar Recruiters will be measured against individual performance indicators including but not limited to:

  • Gross application volume generated among families who reside in their regional markets
  • Gross application volume generated to schools in their regional markets.
  • Yield of regional applicant pool that is converted to enrolled status.
  • Retention of enrolled families through the first 60 days of each academic year.
  • Volume of applicant leads generated in their market.
  • Number of new and continuing community-based contacts established and maintained, segmented by type (e.g. social service, faith-based, childcare, business, etc)
  • Conversion rate of event attendees into applicants or long-lead applicants.
  • Regular submission of performance and market data reporting. 

Success Academy also spends millions on advertising and marketing efforts to lure more applicants onto their waiting lists, with ads running on TV, bus shelters, YouTube and Facebook concurrently. They send repeated mailings to families, sometimes as many as 10-12 times per year, after being given free access to DOE mailing lists despite vehement parent protests. (DOE is the only district in the nation to share this info voluntarily.) 

As evidence of their huge marketing efforts, they also have an internal marketing firm, called the Success Academy Creative Agency:

The SA Creative Agency is a full service brand strategy, marketing, and creative division within Success Academy Charter Schools (SACS). Aligning business goals and creative and cultural trends, we partner with internal clients to define the value proposition, develop strategic insights and create marketing campaigns and other creative content to help redefine what’s possible in K-12 public education. 

SA Creative Agency itself advertises many openings, including senior copywriter, creative director, and Leader of Growth Marketing, "responsible for the design and execution of integrated demand strategies across our paid and organic channels."  

According to her Linked in profile, the Success marketing office is headed by someone named Amanda Cabreira da Silva, who came from Revlon, and as of Success Academy's 2017 IRS 990 was paid over $200,000 per year. 

As of the Success Charter Management Company's 2019 990, they also paying a separate marketing company called Madwell LLC $4 million per year, though they inaccurately claim the services were for "renovation."  (Do they mean reputational renovation?)  

Here is one of the Madwell ads for Success, from 2020.  That year, they also paid the marketing company Canal Partners Media $618,285, which describes itself as the "Lead Buying Agency for President Biden in 2020. Involved in every presidential race since '88."   

The  audit for the Success Academy  Schools Charter Management organization [EIN: 20-5298861)  says they spent $5,406,883 for "marketing/recruitment" and another $2,600,995 for "parent/community outreach." during the year ending in June 2022. The audit for the separate organization which makes up their schools, [EIN 36-4629540] reveals additional marketing expenses over this period of  $5,705,582.  So one  can assume that between the two organizations, Success spends over $13 million annually for marketing and recruitment.  That's about $650 per student!

Their internal and external marketing teams are both apparently kept busy. On Facebook, there are at least 23 Success Academy ads being run currently,  at least seven of them videos. Why at least? According to Facebook, several of these ads are algorithmically dynamic, changing according to the characteristics of the viewer. 

 One of those ads seems to unwittingly reveal the underlying nature of Success Academy and its marketing efforts; see the screenshots below.


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