Success Academy’s Secret Sauce

Success Academy’s Secret Sauce_5fbede232420a.jpeg
Charter Schools Malene Lawrence New York State Parent Voice School Choice Success Academy

Success Academy’s Secret Sauce

Success Academy’s Secret Sauce

As a proud New York City educator who has taught in traditional public elementary schools, public charters and private schools, I wanted to know, both as a parent and a teacher, what the Success Academy hype was all about.

After visiting several Success Academy campuses, I can very much understand why they have waitlists by the thousands—families of all races and socioeconomic levels—and not just the “typical” African-American and Latino families who are often attracted to charter schools.

For the record, I don’t work for Success Academies (now or ever) so I don’t want anyone to think I’m their educational cheerleader. After reading many articles for and against them, I wanted to better understand why so many people were either die-hard proponents or fired-up and outraged—as the charter movement has done to many people in big urban cities.

The Discipline Question

Many knock the “no excuses,” “no nonsense” disciplinary measures that Success Academies (and some other charter schools) subscribe to. As an educator, however, I often felt that my hands were tied when it came to having students in my class who were willfully disrespectful and consistently disrupted instruction (not to be confused with students who have learning differences or special needs).

In traditional schools that lack a strong culture or a common set of expectations, I often found it difficult, if not impossible, to help parents understand their role in their child’s education—including teaching appropriate classroom behavior.

When parents enroll in a charter school, they agree to abide by the school’s academic and behavioral expectations…or else. While some may say that gives the school the privilege of weeding out students, I would argue that it empowers parents to advocate and provide support for their child, in order to ensure that they do what’s needed to stay in school.

Parents Need Good Choices

In New York City, as with most urban areas, parents are only guaranteed enrollment in their zone/neighborhood school, and navigating other school choices, such as magnets and charters, is often reserved for the most savvy and involved parents. Options for less-advantaged families are sadly limited.

So what happens when the neighborhood school has been failing for decades? Parents and children deserve options. Especially if they aren’t able to just up and move to the “right zone” for the best school.

Taste for Yourself

I encourage every parent and educator to visit a Success Academy school during an open house. Visit one in a predominantly African-American neighborhood and one in a mostly white neighborhood. Have an open but critical mind. Compare what works for students (or for your child) and what works against them—whether academically, emotionally or culturally.

Keep in mind not only the demographic being served (culture, race and academic achievement), but also, “What makes and keeps this network of schools so successful and high-performing?”

After visiting, ask yourself or others, “Why haven’t traditional public schools replicated Success Academy’s best practices?”

After all, if I come to your home for dinner and everyone is asking for a second and third helping of your best dish, I’d definitely start thinking about how I can improve my own.

I’d even ask for your recipe.

Malene Lawrence is a native New Yorker who taught for 15 years in traditional, charter and private schools in New York City and upstate New York. She is now living in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband, a principal, and raising two sons who attend different charter schools.
Photo by House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats, CC-licensed.

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