It seems like everybody has been talking about Eva Moskowitz’s new memoir,
“The Education of Eva Moskowitz.” But what fascinates me about her story seems to have mostly escaped notice. To me, it’s not her “sharp elbows,” favored school discipline procedures or dustups with Randi Weingarten that fascinate.
My key takeaway from the book was what she has to say about how Success Academy’s principals and teachers are expected to do their jobs. For example, I appreciate the stories Moskowitz tells about how Success has chosen to focus the work of its principals squarely on ensuring good teaching is happening in every classroom.
Originally, the title principal was short for “principal teacher”—the best teacher in a group. That teacher was expected to support colleagues in planning lessons and improving their own teaching practices.
At Success, a key principal duty is leading planning meetings, in which teachers prepare their lessons and think deeply about the material they will be teaching.
As a former teacher myself, I applaud her decision not to try to teacher-proof her schools. Instead, Success stresses the importance of the teacher’s role as curriculum planner. You can’t teacher-proof curriculum. If teachers aren’t deeply engaged in determining how they will teach the material, they’re not going to do a good job
At Success, she tells us, principals get in the classrooms daily or almost daily. They make very short observations, say five minutes per class, that feature coaching in the moment or demonstrating a technique, if the teacher appears unsure.
This observational strategy seems more appropriate for really new teachers who are learning how to do it all. I would have welcomed this as a beginning teacher, but I can see where it would get on an experienced teacher’s nerves. It would be interesting to know how principals change tack when they are working with teachers who have been on board longer.
Principals then email feedback to teachers during or immediately after the observation. This makes sense—send feedback while it is fresh. Teachers can review when they have a moment to breathe. Feedback based on student work and relevant analysis of test data also makes sense.
Success Academy Gets Principal Succession Planning
As a parent at a standalone charter school which has struggled with succession issues, I also admire Moskowitz’s commitment to succession planning. When I read that Success Academy asks its principals to give them two years’ notice before leaving so they can get the right replacement, I was floored.
Of course, they didn’t always get such advance notice from departing principals, but having that policy on paper is more than many schools of all kinds have.
When Moskowitz had to replace a principal on just a few months’ notice, the best inside candidate was a 24-year-old with two years of teaching experience and one year as dean of students. To make it work, she relied on her favorite veteran teacher, Paul Fucaloro, to get him up to speed.
The arrangement makes one wonder why she didn’t ask Fucaloro to take over as principal himself, but there’s a tension she doesn’t explore between keeping your best teachers in the classroom to work their magic directly with students, and bringing them out to support other teachers.
It’s tough—there’s a lot of ways people try to do it and probably nobody gets it 100 percent right. And Fucaloro did eventually leave the classroom for an administrative role, though not a principalship.
How Eva Upped Her Own Game As a Manager
Later in the book, Moskowitz talks candidly about her work to up her own game as a manager in order to scale Success more effectively. In 2012, she addressed concerns from her own board that Success was outgrowing her capacity to manage it.
In order to make her own internal shift from start-up founder to long-term manager, she connected with successful business leaders to build her confidence and develop a different organizational structure that would delegate more responsibility to a couple of trusted managers who had proven track records, plus a new hire who would be chosen for expertise in managing business expansion.
She also took the time to look at herself and change her messaging to her board—shifting from relentlessly focusing on what wasn’t working to offering a more balanced picture of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses.
Bet you didn’t know that Eva Moskowitz was capable of such introspection and change from within, did you? Neither did I.