crib sheet

We read the Moskowitz/Klein e-mails so that you don't have to

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Eva Moskowitz at the Harlem Success lottery in April 2009. (GothamSchools)
Joel Klein and Eva Moskowitz at the Harlem Success lottery in April 2009. (<em>GothamSchools</em>)

There’s a lot more than school siting and closures in the 77 pages of e-mails between Chancellor Joel Klein and charter school operator Eva Moskowitz.

The e-mails, obtained by the Daily News, include a little bit of news — such as that Bill Clinton considered weighing in on the charter schools fight — and a lot of insight into the way Klein and Moskowitz think about the politics of education. We’ve read every word of the 150+ e-mails and have collected the highlights below. 

A PERSONAL CHALLENGE: Moskowitz puts her expansion goal in personal terms, in an April 2007 e-mail to Klein: “I plan to be educating 8,000 of your children by 2013.”

SHE DIDN’T LIKE THE TWEED WORKFORCE, EITHER. We know that district school leaders and parents often clashed with Garth Harries, the Tweed official who for years led efforts to insert small schools and charters into their buildings. Now we learn that Moskowitz fumed at him, too. On May 16, 2007, she praised a new Department of Education official, Tom Taratko, to Klein. “He got done in 2hrs what garth could not accomplish in 9 months,” she declared, adding, “look out for him and hire more!!!!!” The more typical Tweed worker she describes this way: “maddening sluggishness and people afraid of their own shadows.”

POLITICKING FOR EXPANSION: In July 2007 Moskowitz described to Klein how she and her main financiers, John Petry and Joel Greenblatt, shored up support for her application to open three copies of the original Harlem Success Academy. They courted New York State Republican Committee chairman Ed Cox, who was at the time chairman of SUNY’s charter board. By January 2008, SUNY sent the charters to the Board of Regents, which approved charters for Harlem Success II, III, and IV in May 2008.

GHOST-WRITING IN KLEIN’S NAME: In August 2007, still marshaling support for the expansion plan, Moskowitz asked Klein to write a “letter of commitment” on her application’s behalf. “To save time,” she wrote to him, “I drafted a quick letter.” There’s nothing unusual about ghost-writing a recommendation letter, but it’s funny to see Moskowitz impersonate Klein.

JOEL KLEIN’S BIRTHDAY IS OCTOBER 25. Put it on your calendars.

SHE CONSULTED ON THE MAYORAL CONTROL CAMPAIGN. And it was war! But Moskowitz was humble about what she had to offer. “Though I have grit and courage,” she wrote to Klein on Jan. 23, 2008, “am not always as good at chess moves when up against the uft.”

THE “HOLY GRAIL”: “BOTTOM UP” SUPPORT: By Feb. 4, 2008, after meetings with “chris” (presumably Deputy Chancellor Chris Cerf), Moskowitz has gotten excited about the campaign to renew the mayor’s control over the public schools. Agreeing with an observation by “chris” that their “holy grail” is “bottom up” support (presumably this refers to grassroots support from non-white parents), she sounds an optimistic note. “[W]e will have armies,” she says.

THE COST OF SPACE-SHARING: On March 21, 2008, Moskowitz tells Klein that she was forced to re-wire her Harlem school building at a cost of $150,000.

THE REV. MAKES HIS FIRST APPEARANCE: Moskowitz fills Klein on her latest activities on March 25, 2008. “As you know, i met with Sharpton,” she writes. “Had a great meeting.”

THEY PLAY FOR THE SAME TEAM. “[W]eird as it may seem,” Klein wrote to Moskowitz on April 12, 2008, “I see us on the same team.” In the same chain, Moskowitz wrote about her small team of aides as if they were bodyguards. “i trust w my life,” she said.

BILL CLINTON MULLS TAKING ON THE UNION: April 16, 2009, was my birthday and a hectic e-mailing day for the odd couple. First, Klein offers his frank thoughts on his new buddy Al Sharpton, after Moskowitz asks whether she should invite Sharpton to visit her school. He’s good on charters, but not on mayoral control, Klein says. But he is “working” on Sharpton. The same day, Klein lets Moskowitz know that Bill Clinton called him to say he’s upset about the teachers union attack on charter schools — “keep confi,” Klein instructs. Clinton apparently “wants to do an op ed.” Pretty sure this never materialized, though Moskowitz offered some talking points.

PENN RESEARCHERS MIGHT BE STUDYING HSA: The e-mails oddly get a little out of order here and we fly back to 2008 for a while. On May 16, 2008, Moskowitz indicates that she’s getting researchers at the University to Pennsylvania to study her school. An academic study is something her funder Greenblatt really wants, apparently — and which, as far as I know, no New York City charter school has ever had done.

SPARRING OVER THE SIZE OF HER FOOTPRINT: In June 2008, Moskowitz and John White, who took over for Harries in moderating the messy space battles, sparred over how much city school space she should have. Moskowitz then complained to Klein. “Really could use your intervention,” she said, forwarding her exchange with White.

OUR FRIEND ELI: Juan Gonzalez has chronicled how Klein helped Moskowitz get $1 million from the Broad Foundation. You can read the details in emails from October 3, 2008; October 8, 2008, and November 11, 2008. The grant was made public in April 2009.

WHAT RANDI SAID: In an Oct. 8, 2008, e-mail, Moskowitz claims that former city teachers union president Randi Weingarten, and her personal enemy, suggested that the duo write a thin contract together. Presumably that would mean that Harlem Success schools would become unionized, and the resulting work contract would have very few restrictions. Moskowitz said she would but only if Weingarten also agreed to a thin contract at half of all city schools. The union’s first thin contract, with the Green Dot charter school in the Bronx, landed in June 2009.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, JOEL: November 19 is Klein’s anniversary with his wife Nicole Seligman, and in 2008 he spent part of it speaking at a Harlem Success event. “[W]e will have a new generation of warriors,” Moskowitz said, thanking him.

PRINCIPAL MOSKOWITZ: Feb. 12, 2009, Moskowitz fills Klein in on how she had to lay off a principal — and become principal herself.

KLEIN AND GATES: STILL FRENEMIES: On Feb. 15, 2009, Klein admits that he doesn’t “get” the strategy of the Gates Foundation, which has been avoiding New York City K-12 school investments lately.

PONTIFICATING ON PATERSON AND OTHER POLITICIANS: In March 2009, Moskowitz breaks down the mayoral control fight by the politicians taking part in it. “Malcolm [Smith] is yours if floyd flake cmes through (though of course don’t trust Malcolm),” she writes. “Shelluy [Silver] wants patronage and keeping randi happy.” And presciently, she adds about the year-old governor, “Paterson (we are sending him 10,000 postcards – friendly but reminding him that he said he was oufriend) is just about re-election. He will go with the path of least resistance.”

PUTTING THE POLITICS ASIDE: After the Harlem Success lottery on April 23, 2009, Klein wrote to Moskowitz, “Meant what I said: put the politics aside and enjoy what you’ve done for people. Truly extraordinary and I don’t say that casually. Bravo!”

Moskowitz responded in minutes with a thank-you note of her own: “You were terrific too tonight. You sounded like an evangelist. Donors loved. And parents did.”

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”