If Eva Moskowitz were an action figure, her signature accessory might be a coffee cup. She’s often seen clutching one, with a cell phone or BlackBerry in the other hand.
But it must take an inordinate amount of caffeine—along with determination, vision and smarts—to power this former East Side Council member through her day managing four Success Charter Network schools in Harlem, with three more schools slated to open this fall. There’s also a husband and three children, and frequent sparring with the United Federation of Teachers (a role she became accustomed to during her time as chair of the Council’s education committee). Moskowitz took time out of her hectic schedule, which currently includes Saturday mornings at school, to talk with us about education mudslinging, support for teachers and her political future.
Q: What’s been the biggest challenge for you since you opened Harlem Success 1 in 2006?
A: I would say the politics. I thought I was leaving politics. I was taking a rest from the brutal campaign trail and the opposition research and the kind of mud flinging. We are one of the only schools in the nation that offers science five days a week. [In the] New York City public school system, if you are lucky you have science one day a week, starting in 4th grade. Our kindergartners will have done 135 experiments by the end of kindergarten. And you sort of say to yourself, “Isn’t that like motherhood and apple pie? Why would anyone protest that, why would there be opposition to science five days a week?” It seems sort of crazy on the one hand. But if you know anything about New York City, or you know anything about educational politics, then you realize it’s actually not crazy because it’s challenging the status quo in all sorts of ways.
Q: One of the complaints about charters has been turnover, that teachers aren’t supported enough and that they are overworked. How has turnover been at Harlem Success?
A: Very little problem with turnover. At Harlem Success Academy 2, 100 percent of the teachers came back. At Harlem Success Academy 3, 97 percent of the teachers came back. I had a few teachers here who got pregnant and, interestingly enough, they are coming back. We have a paid maternity leave, which, by the way, the teachers union does not, and has never fought for, even though they have an 88 percent female work force.
Q: Tell me what a typical workday is like for you.
A: I’ve got three kids of my own, so I’ve got to get everybody marching in the same direction. But I generally get here at 7:15. And I’m in a little bit of an unusual situation right now because I am principal of [Harlem Success 1], in addition to all of my other duties. But I make sure that someone is at the gate greeting all of the scholars and family. I walk the cafeteria to make sure that we serve breakfast starting at 7:20, so I want to make sure that it is calm, well-supervised.
Q: Your son goes here?
A: No, they are at Harlem Success Academy 3. I would prefer not to talk about my kids. A reporter asked me when she did the New York Times story. I had never said anything about it before. They’re just little kids and I don’t want to burden them with my public profile.
Here’s the one thing I will say on the record: Where you send your kid to school is a really personal decision. And to me, what’s important is if you believe in parent choice, you should believe in it for yourself and other people. What is sometimes problematic about, let’s say elected officials, is not that they send their kids to private schools. But they believe in parent choice for themselves, but when it comes to other people, they say you must go to the public local zoned schools. The only people who can figure out where my kids go to school are my husband and myself.
Q: You come in to school on Saturdays. How do you have a life for yourself?
A: I do in the sense that first, I have an incredible husband and he’s very supportive. I’m fortunate in that my in-laws and my parents live in the city and are very, very involved. But like a typical mom, I was at basketball practice and tap dance this weekend. We do it. We have a lot of tag teaming in my family to make it work. It’s really, really important to me to be home for the bedtime stories and the help with the homework and the silly moments in the evening. But it’s really hard. I’m pretty tired. I haven’t seen a movie in quite a long time.
Q: Running the charter network sounds like a very compelling, engaging and rewarding profession. Would you ever consider getting back into politics for a mayoral race or something?
A: Yes. I haven’t decided when. I do plan to run for mayor. I don’t know when. Again, that will be another very personal decision. My kids are young, and this project is so important to me and politics is also a crazy business. So I can’t really speak to when I would go forward.
Q: Do you guys have special needs students or ESL students? I think some charters don’t.
A: That’s education mudslinging. I have 18 percent special ed here. I have 12 percent ELL [English Language Learners]. Remember, I’m in central Harlem. The bulk of my families are African American. I’m going to the Bronx, where I expect my ELL population will be more like 100 percent, because it depends on the neighborhood. But this is just not true. The thing that is frustrating is that it’s verifiable, and I get very frustrated that journalists simply take the United Federation of Teachers’ press release and they print it.
Q: Last year, the Daily News wanted to highlight how much you were being paid, which was somewhere over $300,000 for salary and bonus. Is that fair compensation for the work you do?
A: I can’t really answer the question of whether it’s fair. I assure you that if my bosses thought that they could get someone cheaper, they would. I can tell you statistically that Geoff Canada [of Harlem Children’s Zone] makes much more than I do and has fewer schools, and Deborah Kenny [of Harlem Village Academy] makes much more than I do and has fewer schools.
A first year associate of a law firm makes 175K, right? Why shouldn’t we? I thought for years and years we were saying in the liberal community that it’s unfair that things that are valuable in life, people do not get compensated. That’s certainly how I feel about teachers. That’s certainly how I feel about school leaders. Why would we tear that down? Why would someone say that it’s obscene? Obscene? For doing good? For working really hard at an enterprise that is just incredibly challenging?
We have kids here in domestic violence shelters, lots of homeless kids, we have kids whose mothers or fathers are getting incarcerated during the school year. I have been educating their kids for four years and the kid just lost their father. How are we going to respond as a school because the father’s now incarcerated?
In American politics, you can’t defend how much you make. Everybody who doesn’t make as much is going to be jealous. It’s just a lose-lose. Maybe I should have done this in reverse—I should have first done the schooling then gone into politics. Once you’re a public figure, everything is fair game. And so I’m not going to let questions about my salary prevent me from serving kids the way they need to be served.
Transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
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