Setting Charter Schools’ Course Uptown

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Moskowitz focused on running Harlem charter schools

By Gavin Aronsen

Harlem native Eva Moskowitz has spent most of her life with the New York education system, including a stint on the City Council advocating for its reform.

She’s currently in charge of the Harlem Success Academies, a group of charter schools that have received praise in Waiting for “Superman” and from Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and The New York Times.

Eva Moskowitz, a former councilmember who oversees seven charter schools, said she is concentrating on education now, but she might someday return to politics.

She founded the first academy in August 2006. Today, there are five charter schools in Harlem and two in the South Bronx. They are all part of the Success Charter Network, which she serves as CEO.

“I love kids and I love schooling,” Moskowitz said. “We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make school the most interesting, compelling place imaginable, and it’s really gratifying when kids love school.”

Moskowitz, 46, lives in New York with husband Eric Grannis, a former public school teacher whom she met while the two attended Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. The couple’s three children, like their parents, are growing up in the city’s public school system.

“We’re both pretty busy, working parents, so managing all that is a challenge, but we wouldn’t raise them anywhere else,” Moskowitz said. “I’m deeply engaged in their education and bedtime stories and all of the craziness of raising a family in New York.”

After she graduated high school, Moskowitz studied history at the University of Pennsylvania before going on to receive a PhD in American history at Johns Hopkins University.

She later become a professor of history and also taught at Prep for Prep, which provides preparatory coursework for minority students.

In the mid-1990s, Moskowitz shifted her focus to politics, and in 1999 she was elected to the New York City Council.

She was chosen to lead the Education Committee at the beginning of 2002 and held more than 100 oversight meetings during her time there, earning herself a reputation as a fierce fighter for school reform.

Then in 2005, she lost a bid to become Manhattan borough president and decided to return to education.

Moskowitz’s charter schools have generated their share of controversy—much of it from the United Federation of Teachers—largely over resource competition with other schools. But she said she simply wants an alternative to a bureaucracy-laden system and chalks disagreements up to politics.

“Charter schools have been somewhat controversial,” she said. “I’m not sure exactly why, because they’re public schools—they’re free from the bureaucracy of the district and free from the labor union contracts, so they are able to organize themselves around teaching and learning.”

More than 2,500 students receive their education at Moskowitz’s seven schools now, and the Success Charter Network has ambitious plans to open more than 30 more schools over the next 10 years.

“There are lots of challenges,” Moskowitz said. “Obviously we work very, very hard to find phenomenal teachers and school principals. That’s incredibly important to us.”

She stressed the importance of several trademarks of early education to children’s learning, including recess—“It’s really, really important for kids to get that release no matter what the weather is, unless it’s pouring rain”—and field trips, which her own children helped her learn.

“New York is a great place to raise kids because there’s so much to do,” she said. “At our schools we do three or more field trips a month. When you’re living in the greatest city on earth, if I may be so bold, with great ranges of cultural institutions and parks and just a lot to do, it’s important to get kids out and about. That’s something I’ve done as a mother and as a family.”

Of course, building students’ minds is the most important part of the academies’ mission. One novel program to accomplish that which Moskowitz highlighted was the teaching of chess to all their students, beginning in kindergarten.

“It’s a way to think strategically without language, and that is a very important part of thinking,” she explained.

Although she said she might think about a return to elected office later in life, for now Moskowitz said she intends to stay put at her current job.

“Right now, I am committed to ensuring that the schools are running at a high level,” she said, “and as you can imagine, it’s quite an undertaking to create a school and create many of them, all with extraordinary quality.”

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