The past few weeks have been a devastating time for our city and country. The brutal murders of George Floyd and other Black Americans before and after him require deep introspection and thought about the pain those around us feel. Reflecting on some of my earlier communications and actions about this crisis, I realize I did not show the care and leadership many of you sought and deserved, and for that I am truly sorry. Even an organization that was founded to advance racial equality must emphatically state that it is against racism in all of its forms and must look critically at all of its practices.
In the wake of these horrific events, we have had many conversations with principals, teachers, parents, and network staff — by videoconference, email, and phone. You have emphatically told us that we must do more, and we agree. You have generously contributed ideas and suggestions about the ways in which we as an organization can work to end racism and further commit to diversity, equity and inclusion across all aspects of our operation. With passion and thoughtfulness, our community has both voiced support for SA and the work we do but also pushed us to do more: to have a more diverse workforce at all levels of the organization, a more inclusive, bias-aware culture, more training, and more reflection on who we are and what we do.
True to our belief in continuous improvement, we commit to advancing racial equity not just by running exceptional public schools that give children from all backgrounds access to life-changing education, but also by prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
To support these values, these are the concrete actions we will take:
Improve Our Culture
- We will roll out bias and sensitivity training for all employees this school year. All new hires will also receive training and be acculturated to SA’s values, including our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Respect for others, sensitivity, and a sense of belonging are essential to educating students, partnering with families, and fostering an engaging, inclusive, and productive work environment.
- Creating such an environment must begin with ensuring that all staff feel welcome, respected and empowered. To get continuous feedback on our progress in this area, we will establish an Inclusion Council no later than September 30th, consisting of staff from both the network and the schools. Using data from the employee engagement survey, we will regularly measure our progress in these areas.
- We will prioritize parent relationships, focusing on personal interactions and tone, with attention and sensitivity to race. Guided by input from our parents from a webinar series and data from our biannual parent engagement surveys, we will identify specific areas that need improvement and will action them starting this Fall.
- We will ensure that all students feel that other students and teachers treat them with respect. School leadership and faculty will unpack the reasons why some students don’t feel respected and will develop plans to improve student satisfaction in this area. All schools will be accountable for ensuring results, as measured by biannual scholar surveys.
- We will maintain all school policies and practices that support a child’s right to learn and a teacher’s right to teach. The execution of those policies and practices will be regularly reviewed by senior schooling leadership to ensure that the implementation is equitable, fair and inclusive. We will continuously re-evaluate policies and practices through the lens of supporting our students, families, teachers, and staff, in pursuit of our ambitious mission. As always, we welcome feedback on how we can improve.
Study, Reflect, Speak Up
- As part of their role as leaders, principals will be expected to lead their staff in and ensure tolerance and acceptance of divergent views, while also leading on SA’s approach to anti-racism. We are committed to assisting our leaders in their efforts to make these discussions constructive, forward looking and respectful.
- Individually and collectively, we will seek to understand, ask the hard questions, and learn from each other. We will publish staff reading lists on race and education equality several times a year and will provide other resources to facilitate conversations as well.
- We will build upon the robust conversations, reflections, and introspection on issues of race and SA that we started this month. These discussions will start with a focus on the workplace and inclusion. We will incorporate discussions of race and impact in regular SA convenings such as the Management Forum, Leadership Training Institute (LTI), New Teacher Training (NTT), as well as during school-based and network professional development sessions.
- Through the Robertson Center, we will invite thought-leaders on race and racism, and its implication for schooling, to enlighten us and challenge our own thinking as well as present diverse perspectives on the work.
Ensure Opportunity & Career Growth for All
- We will achieve a diverse and inclusive workplace, by ensuring that our hiring, development, and promotion practices reflect this deep and abiding commitment. We will commit to transparency and regular communication of our diversity numbers and outcomes at both the schools and the network.
- We will ensure that at both the network and school level, our BIPOC employees who want to advance to positions of greater responsibility and leadership are able to do so. We will set ambitious goals for achieving this consistent with our high standards of quality and excellence.
- We must ensure that our teachers of color can advance to leadership positions. Of the new teachers we hired for the next academic year, 56% are people of color (up from 52% from last year). We must ensure that our teachers move up through the ranks of leadership, so that our principals and other members of school leadership teams will be equally diverse (currently 37% of our assistant principals and principals are people of color). Under our dedicated Talent Management function, we will set up robust processes to further ensure that we identify and develop and promote educators of color.
- Every SA employee must uphold, foster, and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. We all must value and embrace DEI and be held accountable for outcomes, starting with school and network leadership and extending across all levels of the organization. Rather than concentrating DEI responsibility in one position, every SA leader and employee must be responsible. Our head of human capital, Aparna Ramaswamy, will lead this work across the enterprise.
Set Goals & Celebrate Success
- We will develop specific diversity, equity, and inclusion goals as part of our long-term strategic plan for our enterprise.
- As part of SA’s annual Excellence Awards, we will create an Equity & Inclusion Award to recognize school and network staff who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership in the area of equity and inclusion in their school communities and departments.
- We will retire Columbus Day as a holiday and instead commemorate freedom and celebrate our commitment to Black lives and minds by declaring Juneteenth a Success Academy holiday, closing schools and the network.
What We Teach
- We will undertake a significant audit and revision of our curriculum quality, with an eye towards representing diverse voices among other criteria.
- This Fall we will introduce a formal mechanism for collecting input on curriculum, the Curriculum Advisory Council. This Council will include participants from faculty and leaders across our schools and will review content design and give counsel.
- We will promote inclusivity in what students study, without eliminating texts or topics based on the race, gender, sexual orientation or religion of the author. We will not shy away from controversial topics; opposing ideas will be discussed and critiqued. As educators, we commit to reading materials, even if we disagree with them, and to teaching our students to do the same. We are proud of our intellectual culture, which exposes kids and adults to diverse ideas — and divergent, provocative thought — and we have confidence in our students to rigorously debate ideas, even controversial ones. We teach scholars not what to think but how to think.
SA’s Anti-Racism Agenda
Anti-racism is at the heart of Success Academy’s mission. Decades of institutional racism have created a crisis of educational inequity that tragically limits the opportunities available to children of color. At SA, we provide students — most of whom are Black and Brown children who would otherwise be stuck in failing schools — with a world-class education that allows them to earn admission to top-notch colleges with generous financial packages that enable them to accept these offers. An SA education provides our students with the opportunities that have for so long been available only to privileged — and, yes, usually White — children who live in affluent suburbs or attend private schools. When we founded SA, we wanted to create schools that weren’t simply good enough for other people’s children, but to which we’d want to send our own children — as I have done for the past 12 years.
It is no accident that eleven of our 45 schools are racially and socioeconomically diverse — more than those of any other other charter school network in our nation. This reflects our commitment to fulfilling the promise of Brown v. Board of Education to end educational segregation.
Our core academic values — excellence, curiosity, autonomy, purposefulness, productive struggle and thinking deeply, intrinsic motivation, protecting the rights of students to learn and of teachers to teach, and using data to hold ourselves accountable — are anti-racist because they unleash the tremendous potential of students who have historically been underserved by our nation’s educational institutions.
To provide our students with a world class education, we must equip them with the academic tools they will need to access and navigate elite and privileged institutions, but that alone is insufficient. From the outset, we’ve rejected the idea that students of color should be satisfied with a “back to basics” education. Our students deserve the same well-rounded education that affluent White children have long received. That is why we have always had rich and diverse programming, including performing and visual arts, sports, coding, chess, and debate. That is why our students take Advanced Placement classes in Art History, Literature, Statistics, Calculus, Physics, and Biology, as well as courses in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, among others. That is why we ensure that our students have the social, emotional and leadership skills they’ll need to assume positions of responsibility and influence in our society.
Delivering on our promises also requires listening to our families. We must do so because the charter school movement empowers parents to choose the school to which they will entrust their children, a choice that was once the sole preserve of affluent White families. When it comes time to make that choice, more families of color in New York City choose SA than any other charter school, and thousands more are on waiting lists. That is because they like the exceptional education that you — our teachers, leaders, and staff —are delivering to them. In a survey we administered in May, 96% of our scholars’ families told us that “the instruction and learning that my child receives at SA is high quality;” 93% said they’d “recommend [SA] to a friend or neighbor;” and 95% agreed that “My child’s teachers manage safe and orderly classrooms that encourage learning.” While there is undoubtedly much room for improvement ahead of us, we must preserve what so many families love about our schools. Since SA was founded, there have always been those who felt that our standards for academic achievement and scholar conduct were too stringent, but our parents recognize the value of these high standards, that they are a pipeline to power.
Vanquishing educational inequality will require us all to have immense staying power and be disciplined about our core mission and values. We must regularly and self-critically examine ourselves and our practices to ensure that we are continually improving and meeting our obligations to our students and their families. We will support you in achieving these goals with curriculum, pedagogic training, talent and career development, and access to all of SA’s teaching and learning resources.
In the final analysis, our goal is to change the world through education. We seek to reverse racial inequity and upend power dynamics by equipping children of color with a world-class education and advocating for public policies that will allow all families to choose excellent schools for their children. Fulfilling this ambitious mission requires that we have a diverse and inclusive workforce and an anti-racist organization at all levels. We have made some progress, but we have much more work to do. I am committed to doing that work, with you.
As founder of Success Academy, I thank you not only for being part of this important conversation but for everything you have done for our students in this very challenging year. I am so excited for our next decade of work together, making SA a better place today and preparing our students to take their rightful place in the world tomorrow.