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Shake-Up At Success Academy As Two Executives Step Down From Posts

Success Academy Charter Schools
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Success Academy Charter Schools Rafael Infante / Creative Commons

Gothamist has learned that two top executives at Success Academy announced their resignation earlier this month, fueling uncertainty among some employees at the controversial charter network, which has earned a reputation in recent years for its demanding work environment and high turnover rates.

On May 9th, Eva Moskowitz, the head of Success Academy, sent an office-wide email informing employees that Chief Operating Officer Kris Cheung and Chief Financial Officer Robert Price will both be leaving the company. Cheung is slated to become the COO of KIPP charter network in Texas, while Price will be moving into a consultant role next month, according to the email.

The departures come less than a month after the billionaire investor Daniel Loeb announced that he'd be ending his five-year run as chairman of the school's board in July.

"It's concerning," an employee told Gothamist. "Generally, there's been low morale lately because of how much turnover there's been. We haven't been told what the plan is, and it doesn't feel like anything will get done until Kris [Cheung] gets replaced. A lot of things are being put on hold. A lot of teams are short staffed."

The charter network, which serves 15,500 students at 46 schools throughout the city, has long been plagued by reports of high turnover among employees—at some schools, annual teacher turnover rates have exceeded 50 percent, meaning that more than half of teachers don't return the following year. At charter schools citywide, the turnover rate among teachers was 41 percent in 2016, compared to 18 percent for teachers at district schools.

In recent years, state test scores have shown that Success Academy schools significantly outperformed the city's public schools, as well as schools in wealthier districts throughout the state, like Scarsdale and Chappaqua. Last year, 95 percent of Success Academy students passed the math exam and 84 percent passed the reading exam—rates that are more than double what the city's public schools see. Those results have contributed to a large uptick in applicants: a total of 17,700 students are now vying for 3,288 seats in the upcoming school year.

But repeated controversies at the school have overshadowed some of that success, including reports that school principals created "Got To Go" lists to expel struggling students, a lawsuit alleging discrimination against students with disabilities, and a video showing a teacher humiliating a first grader and ripping up the student's homework.

"It generally is the case that charters school have a much higher rate of employee turnover," said Leo Casey, the executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, a nonprofit focused on public education. "My suspicion is that Success Academy is on the extreme end...a good portion of that can probably be attributed to employees working considerably longer hours and days, and a toxic workplace culture."

Both Cheung and Price are still listed as part of the management team on the company's website. Success Academy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A representative of KIPP did not respond to an inquiry about whether Cheung had taken the job. We'll update as more information becomes available.

Update: Reached for comment, a Success Academy spokesperson told Gothamist, "As Success scales to 100 schools, we have hired several new leaders this past year—general counsel, chief of technology and head of leadership and human resources. While Kris Cheung, who has spent seven years with Success, is leaving to work in Texas for another charter network, Rob Price will continue as a consultant."

It is unclear what that consultant role will entail.

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