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Ending Inequality Starts in the Classroom

Over the summer, Meghan Mackay, principal of Success Academy Harlem 5, invited her staff to write and share their stories about why they chose to work at Success Academy. The responses she received are powerful expressions of commitment to the Success Academy community and to our mission of ending educational inequality in New York City. Below are a few of these inspiring personal stories, including Ms. Mackay’s. If they inspire you, tell us in the comments section what you’re doing to make educational equality possible.

Meghan Mackay, Principal

My first job after college was as an assistant teacher at a failing school, where the negativity and absence of hope were palpable. The soundtrack of the school was adults screaming at kids, kids screaming back, and parents telling teachers off. Nobody thought it would ever be better. Nobody believed “these kids” could read or write, let alone dream of becoming scientists and poets and doctors. I ate lunch in my car to get away from the toxicity, and every day I told myself there had to be a better way than the misery and failure that everyone accepted.

Two years later, I met some like-minded people who wanted to start a revolution in the birthplace of the American Revolution: something called a charter school. That intentional act of defying bureaucracy for freedom and better outcomes for children has sparked everything I have done since. I am here because I believe all children, regardless of the zip code in which they live, are entitled to a world-class education and every opportunity under the sun. We are at the forefront of the (still!) revolutionary idea that parents everywhere must have high-quality school options, and we are relentless in proving that excellence is possible. I revel in the challenge of creating equality of opportunity for all and have never before worked with such committed, demanding, hardworking, exuberant people who bring out the best in each other. We fight the good fight and make it matter, because together, we can do anything

Molly Cohen, Leadership Resident

When I first started teaching, two words bounced around my head hourly: “achievement” and “gap.” Together, these two words define the difference in academic and life outcomes between wealthy, often white, students and their low-income, often black and brown, counterparts. I was teaching a bridge kindergarten class in the South Bronx, and each day filled me with more doubt. The kids were significantly behind, and the school felt hopeless. I didn’t believe the achievement gap could be closed — it felt too large, too historic, too impossible to change.

When I came to Success Academy Harlem 5, my mindset changed. I watched students soar in rigorous and joyful classrooms. I realized that the gap isn’t in achievement, which to me implies one’s ability to succeed, but rather lies in opportunity. When kids are given a high-quality education, they will succeed. I am here to continue to fight for these opportunities for all children. Though sometimes it seems like an impossible mountain to scale, it is the fight worth fighting.

Monica Burress, Dean

I decided to follow the road that was more predictable (that’s my mother speaking!) and go into education. As an educator, I discovered the horrible flaws in our education system. I understood why my single mother opted to put me in a Catholic school way across town when I was a child instead of in the public school right across the street from our house. I understood why (now that I am navigating the same system for my own children) I have to perform magic tricks to get my kids into better schools in better districts (because zip code matters), just so they can get a halfway decent public school education. In researching schools for my children, I came across Success Academy and knew I had to be part of a network that is willing to step out and step up to make bold change for our children. Success Academy is brave enough to challenge the status quo, and that is why I’m here.

Written by Meghan Mackay September 18, 2015

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