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“It is the accumulation of the hundreds of minute decisions that is the difference between mediocrity and true excellence,” read a recent 14-paragraph Moskowitz message to a senior Education Department employee that began about scheduling difficulties but became broadly philosophical. “We at Harlem Success literally go for perfection.”(Hat tip: EduWonk)
This is the woman who, during four years of running the City Council Education Committee, agitated the bureaucracy and the teachers’ union alike with exhaustive hearings on the dearth of science classes, the restrictions of the union contract and, famously, the matter of why so many school bathrooms seemed perpetually to lack toilet paper. Now, with the zeal of a bureaucracy-busting superhero, Ms. Moskowitz has channeled her interests in matters mind-bending and minute into the Success Charter Network, which started in 2006 with Harlem Success Academy 1, added three more schools this summer and plans to expand to 40 over a decade.
These are also schools clearly run by a mother. Mindful of the time it takes to tie tiny shoelaces, Ms. Moskowitz mandates Velcro footwear. The fact that her son Culver barely spoke at age 3 but played chess by 4 is behind the school’s policy of teaching chess to every child.
She describes the Harlem Success educational philosophy as a mix of the liberal Bank Street College of Education approach and the traditional Catholic school model. In an age when kindergarten is increasingly academic, and many urban charter schools have taken a militaristic approach to learning, the Harlem Success kindergartens have dress-up corners, water-activity tables and Legos but also use the highly scripted Success for All reading curriculum and embrace standardized tests. Even kindergartners take TerraNova exams in literacy and math, in January and May.