Making Schools Magical: Success Academy Operations at Work
This year, 17,000 Success Academy scholars arrived on the first day of school to find classrooms bursting with color, libraries brimming with interesting reads, sparkling hallways, and fresh learning materials at their fingertips. But if some of these scholars had taken a peek inside their schools just a few weeks earlier, they would have likely seen a construction zone.
This is the herculean task of the Success Academy Operations teams: To transform ordinary, sometimes run-down spaces into beautiful houses of learning — at lightning speed! There are only a few weeks each summer to clear everything out, renovate entire rooms and bathrooms — or build brand-new ones — and then stock each room with everything needed for excellence.
Our operations teams do this for not just one classroom, or two, or a dozen. This summer, as scholars dove into their favorite books and worked on their homework, SA Operations transformed 594 classrooms! The entire process rests on meticulous planning and coordinating — working with 25 separate vendors and three warehouses to procure and deliver a grand total of 500,000 essential materials. The numbers are eye-popping, but what does it take to make them happen?
This summer, as scholars dove into their favorite books and worked on their homework, SA Operations transformed 594 classrooms!
Brittany Giovinazzi, SA Operations Chief of Staff, knows all about the logistics behind the learning at SA schools. She’s been working in operations at Success since 2012, starting out as an Operations Manager at SA Harlem 3, when the network consisted of just 14 schools. This is Brittany’s seventh summer of school renovations, so we caught up with her to learn more about the management behind the magic.
Why does Success place such importance on school aesthetics?
We firmly believe that “the classroom is the other teacher in the room.” When we renovate spaces, it’s not just to make them look pretty; the design is incredibly intentional. Every detail has a purpose, and that purpose revolves around scholar safety, learning, and engagement. For example — rather than simply delivering colorful and educational posters for the classroom walls, we install display rails so that teachers can easily swap out anchor charts throughout the year to support each curriculum unit. Our middle school spaces differ from elementary school in look and organization because we want them to reflect a more independent and collegiate learning environment. Similarly, our high schoolers spend much more in-school time on independent study, so we’ve built work spaces in the hallways that are both beautiful and functional.
But our work is not just about a creating a compelling educational setting for students. It’s also about alleviating the work for our educators. We provide “classrooms in a box,” meaning each room is pre-stocked with everything the teacher needs, from pencil cases and book baggies for each student, to curated libraries and curriculum materials. We don’t want them to have to spend inordinate time gathering, organizing, and distributing essentials — although they do take a lot of pride in customizing their classrooms!
Why do you have such a short turnaround time each year, and how does your team prepare for unexpected setbacks?
Since space allocation is such a lengthy and bureaucratically-laden DOE process, our teams don’t have access to the new spaces until July 1st. That leaves just six weeks to completely renovate the space and deliver the furniture and supplies.
The monumental nature of the task requires us to be extremely strategic. We select materials that are mass-produced and that can be replicated across schools. We are also planning gurus; a door requires a certain number of weeks to procure, for instance, so we have to work backwards factoring in that time. As soon as we’re finished with one year, we start planning for the next! The extensive planning minimizes setbacks and gives us a high level of risk-management, but of course there are inevitable unforeseen challenges. The major heartbreak this summer was when we found out the city was evicting SA Lafayette Middle School. We had already contracted and purchased materials, and were then left with a surplus that we didn’t know what to do with. We’re trying to repurpose these, but given the timeline of when we were notified, we still have excess. That’s extremely unfortunate because it’s just not how we operate. There aren’t usually extras — a point of pride — because we plan precisely for the space that we’re given.
What do you, and your team, feel most accomplished about this summer?
We are so proud of renovating SA Harlem East, all 28,500 sq. ft. of it! That’s 41 rooms and four bathrooms that are now fully updated. SA Harlem East was our second middle school to open in Harlem — it opened in 2013 and really needed a face-lift. We love our schools, and it is immensely gratifying to show this love by investing in their long-term upkeep. We also have our first middle school in Queens! SA Queens 1 MS welcomed a full cohort of 5th grade scholars into brand-new renovated classrooms and offices. We’re so excited to help this school grow. We updated three other schools — SA Bronx 1, SA Bed-Stuy 2, and SA Harlem East — to our new design this summer, which included installing custom bulletin boards and lockers. We then delivered furniture to each of these buildings, outfitting 97 rooms with all new furniture in just a span of four days.
How would you describe the SA Operations teams?
We embody ETHOS! Especially when it comes to having a sense of humor, because when we can laugh at the unexpected, it helps us accept it and move on to getting results. We also go out of our way to support one another because we know what’s at stake — if we don’t accomplish what we’ve set out to do, our kids and educators literally will not have a space to teach and learn. We have a lot of joy and perseverance on this team because we understand what drives the work. It’s incredible to collaborate with people who step up when you ask, who are humble, and above all, who are dedicated to our mission.