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Stories and insights on excellent education.


My current neighborhood reminds me of my hometown. There’s a physical border in the form of a massive cliff cutting off Hudson Heights from the rest of Washington Heights, but it’s the metaphorical barrier that truly divides. There are well-documented socioeconomic and ethnic differences that fall along this division.

My school sits at the top — on the affluent and highly coveted side — but my students, admitted through random lottery, come from all over the city, including “down the cliff.” We have the longest waiting list of any Success Academy School, a testament to our outstanding academic achievements: On the most recent state exams, Success Academy Washington Heights was first in the state for math and in the top .03 percent for ELA.

Our families may not be zoned to “this side of the cliff” (although some of them are), but they have every right to attend a high-performing school. We’re proud of our diversity, our inclusiveness, and our excellence, but have discovered that not everyone celebrates what we’ve achieved.

As with any school in our tightly-packed New York City neighborhoods, we have to contend with logistical challenges. Our goal in this regard is to minimize the potential disruption that comes from hundreds of children arriving and leaving at the same time each day. We also try to maximize what we can give back to the community, bringing our children to sing at senior citizen homes, and hosting community art shows. We’re not perfect, but we’ve taken extensive efforts to adjust and improve — as is the Success Academy way.

Nevertheless, during our twenty-minute arrival and ten-minute dismissal periods, we endure daily abuse. I’ve been told that we’re ruining the neighborhood. I’ve been angrily asked, in reference to our families, “Where are these people from?” Anti-charter campaigners stand at our entrance handing out flyers with common charter school myths. Parents have been confronted in front of their own children, bullied online in neighborhood forums, and called out at community meetings.

As principal, I want to be the best ambassador to the neighborhood that I can be — but I also need my families to know that they belong here. They are part of an incredible learning community, one that they truly deserve and helped create.

Together, we’re shaping future leaders who will shatter metaphorical cliffs. I am hopeful that we — Success Academy staff, faculty, and parents — are raising these citizens of the world that know how to embrace diversity and create positive change.

Recently, several SA moms spoke with me about their reactions to our ongoing challenges. I wanted to share some of their remarks below, because I continue to be inspired and humbled by the families that make Success Academy Washington Heights a truly amazing place.

  • Otilia Tejada

    We’re often portrayed as desperate and without other options for educating our children. Even well-meaning people talk about us like we’re at the mercy of Success Academy. In fact, we all made an active and informed choice to enroll our children here. After receiving a place through the lottery system, I took steps before accepting the seat. I asked questions, I went into the school, I engaged with as many people who would be teaching my children as possible. We’re invested in our kids! We want them to grow into their best selves and be leaders. Everyone wants to discuss my race or my culture or the challenges I face being a single parent. I just wish they would take that out and see me and other Success Academy parents as just that — parents who want the best for our kids. It’s not about how much or how little money our kids have. Every single one of them is worth it. They deserve a school that helps them make friends, find a sport that they love, and learn; we have to fight for this for our kids.

  • Estephanny Palma

    I have this fire in me to fight for the quality of education that my kids need. I also want to fight for other children, because our teachers go above and beyond, and I want other families to access this kind of school. I won’t give up just because someone treats our students unfairly in the park, or yells at us while we’re standing in line to drop off each morning, or because the city won’t provide the space for a middle school that is our right. The truth is, we’re not taking away anything from anyone. We’re engaged in the community — we have all kinds of positive projects that you would hope to see coming out of your neighborhood school. This year we’re launching a community garden!

  • Jama Toung

    As a parent of two children attending Success Academy Washington Heights, beginning in its first year, and now in its fourth, I have seen mixed reactions from the community toward our school. Change can be difficult — and there have been changes. There is more car, bus, and foot traffic. There are children and families — more each year — coming and going from the school. A sleepy street leading to Fort Tryon Park has become highly energized, even hectic, during the arrival and dismissal times. The subway station is a-buzz with families. The playground is humming at recess. Families drop off and pick up their children daily; there are hugs and handshakes, parents gathering to greet one another, buses lining up for field trips, and the garbage truck making its rounds. As a parent living in the vicinity of the school, I witness the changes and the community’s response. I have seen and heard neighbors express their unhappiness. In the beginning, I found myself wondering: how can this community, my beloved community, the place I came to with my husband 12 years ago to raise our family, the place he called home in his own elementary years; how can this community be experiencing this struggle among neighbors? As our children grow and become more aware, we are faced with a challenge — how can we be agents of reconciliation? While the struggles over congestion and urban neighborliness are mostly among adults, our children are watching, listening, and emulating. What can we teach them about problem-solving amidst differences? What can we learn ourselves? As the author Mem Fox says, “Smiles are the same, and hearts are just the same—wherever they are, wherever you are, wherever we are, all over the world.”

  • Deirdre McIntosh-Brown

    Each morning, I see kids who are excited and visibly happy to be arriving at school. It would be so easy to go to the school that’s a block from my house, but it just doesn’t meet the needs of my child. Do you think for one second that we would continue to send our children here if even part of the bad things people are so fond of pinning on Success were actually true? I can’t understand why anyone would believe that; the fact is, we deliberately choose to stay. Success creates a true community through collaboration. Everyone is tuned in to what our children are doing in class. I want to take this opportunity to emphasize how much we need parents to attend their local community board meetings. It would be so helpful to have a more balanced dialogue at these meetings so that neighbors who attend aren’t only hearing from those who are against us.

  • Veronica Ward

    A lot of people will tell me that I should support my “neighborhood” school, as if coming to SA Washington Heights is some kind of betrayal. First of all, I live only three local subway stations away, and often walk back to my house from the school. It’s not like I’m from out of town. Secondly, the school that my daughter has been zoned to — it’s a C-rated school. They state on their website that the curriculum is “developing.” To me, it’s simple: it’s not a good school, so it’s not acceptable to send my kid there. My daughter comes from a college-educated family; she won’t be the first to go to college, or even the second. Any assumptions about us being “clueless” and not knowing any better about Success should be put to rest. There are people who are saying that we don't understand the decisions we’re making, that we are somehow victims because some of us might be poor or less educated. I’m hopeful precisely because not everyone in the school is the same. That means that our children will become a whole different class of people who have learned to live together. When you drop your kid off, you don’t walk in with your paycheck or your diploma. You’re just a parent, choosing to fight for a future for your child.

  • Stay in Touch!

    Prospective Parents: If your child will be entering Kindergarten through 4th grade for the 2018-19 school year, please register below to receive more information regarding your neighborhood Success Academies.

  • Register

    Prospective Parents: Register below to be notified when the application for the 2017-18 school year becomes available and to receive more information about Success Academy Charter Schools.