Magazine article The New Yorker

Charter Chief

Magazine article The New Yorker

Charter Chief

Article excerpt

CHARTER CHIEF

--Andrew Marantz

Last Wednesday morning, Andrew Malone, the principal of Success Academy Harlem Central, stood in front of his school, on West 111th Street. He held a cup of coffee in his left hand; with his right he shook the hand of each arriving student.

"Mr. Malone, what's the capital of a capital?" Amir Kimbrough-Smith, a fifth grader, asked.

Malone replied, "Are you thinking of a building that's called a capitol?"

"No, I mean, like, what's the capital of Albany?" Amir said.

"Amir, that is such an interesting question that I have no idea how to answer it," Malone said, rustling Amir inside.

The first Success Academy opened in 2006, and the network, which is supported by both public and private funds, is now the largest charter-school group in the city, with a thousand employees and twenty-two schools. Its founder and C.E.O., Eva Moskowitz, is a divisive figure: a conquering hero to charter-school converts, and "Evil Moskowitz" to the teachers' union and its allies, who like to mention her four-hundred-and-seventy-five-thousand-dollar salary. ("We believe in rewarding excellence," she says.)

Moskowitz, who is fifty, arrived at Harlem Central that morning wearing a colorful print dress. She left her coat and handbag with Adriana Trovato, one of her four assistants, and she and Malone visited a classroom where students were working silently on white MacBooks. Soothing New Age music played on a stereo.

"They're on Code.org," the teacher, Greg Michnikov, said. "They're learning the underlying concepts of computer programming. They can see how many levels they've completed relative to their peers."

"Mr. Malone is also taking the course," Moskowitz said.

"Am I still in the lead?" Malone asked.

"No, you're now behind one person," Michnikov said.

Prestina St. Louis, a fifth grader with braids, said, "It's me!"

"Mr. Malone!" Moskowitz chided, making a tsk-tsk noise. She went on, "My ambition is to start a summer coding camp. But it's been hard to focus on that, given the current . . . distraction."

Last fall, Mayor Bloomberg approved forty-five proposals for 2014, including eight for Success Academy schools that wanted to "co-locate"--that is, move to underused space in public-school buildings. Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio reversed nine of those decisions, including Harlem Central's request to move.Eva Moskowitz

"This space is temporary," Moskowitz said. "So unless we figure out a backup plan these kids will be educationally homeless come September. …

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