Charting a New Course for Academic Success

A gift by Griffin Catalyst is propelling a dramatic expansion of New York City’s Success Academy—one of the fastest-growing and most effective public charter-school networks in the nation. Building on the remarkable track record of Success Academy's 53 existing schools, the gift will increase enrollment by 50%, unlocking educational opportunities for thousands of low-income families across New York City.
Committed to providing a well-rounded education for its students, Success Academy provides extensive arts, athletics, chess, and debate electives as part of its K-12 curriculum, with 800 nationally-ranked chess players, many of whom have placed among the top winners in national chess championships.
Photo Credit: Success Academy
Key Takeaways
  • A $25 million gift made in April 2023 by Griffin Catalyst to New York’s Success Academy will expand access for 10,000 students over the next five years, a 50% increase over its current enrollment of 20,000. This support builds on an earlier $10 million gift from Ken Griffin in 2018, that enabled Success Academy to open three new middle schools in New York City.
  • Founded in 2006 with a single school and 165 students, Success Academy has become New York City’s largest charter-school operator, with 53 schools in underserved neighborhoods across Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Every single high school graduate in the history of the Success Academy has been accepted by a four-year college, and more than two-thirds have been accepted by a selective or highly selective college.
  • The program’s distinctive K-12 approach has achieved levels of performance among its low-income New York City students that surpass those of the most affluent suburban schools. If Success Academy was its own public school district, it would be the highest performing in the state of New York. Since the start of the pandemic, Success Academy students have achieved double (and in some cases triple) the pass rates of their peers on state and national tests, bucking the widespread learning loss across the country.

I am thrilled to support Success Academy’s work to expand access to high-quality education for thousands of students across New York City. I passionately believe that a good education is the on-ramp to the American Dream. Success Academy… has proven time and again that with a culture of excellence and a focus on problem solving and critical thinking, students can bypass the achievement gap and set new standards.

In the fall of 2005, Eva Moskowitz, a longtime New York education advocate, decided it was time to put words into action.

For six years, as an elected member of New York’s City Council and head of its Education Committee, Moskowitz—a native-born New York public-school graduate with a doctorate in history from Johns Hopkins—had been outspoken about the limits of the city’s public education system, arguing that many schools lacked sufficient rigor, and that students needed to be challenged as well as engaged to remain and prosper in class.  Many public-school leaders, she said, underestimated the capabilities , and felt—wrongly, in her view—that students from low-income households “cannot achieve at the highest levels.”

In 2005, when she lost to a candidate backed by the teachers union, Moskowitz’s political career ended. Within days, two financial investors who wanted to open a charter-school offered her a job leading it. Moskowitz embraced the offer and for the next eight months worked furiously to create her vision of an academically rigorous alternative to primary and secondary education.

True to its name, the school proved a success from the start, and, with the support of then-Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg—who hailed the original Harlem Success Academy as “the poster child for this country”—the initiative soon began to expand, with three new schools opening in 2008.

Within little more than a decade, Success Academy grew to become the largest public charter-school network in New York City, with an enrollment of 20,000 students in 53 elementary, middle, and high schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.

30,000

Students able to enroll in Success Academy schools in New York City as a result of Griffin Catalyst’s gift

53

Elementary, middle, and high schools make Success Academy the largest public charter school network in New York City

100%

Of graduates accepted to a four-year college for six years in a row

From its beginning in one school building in Harlem in 2006, Success Academy has expanded to 53 elementary, middle, and high schools across four New York City boroughs.

Admitted by random public lottery, Success Academy’s students—mostly children of color from low-income households in the city’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods—began to regularly outperform those in the most affluent suburban areas and in gifted-and-talented schools.  Indeed, if measured as a district unto itself, Success Academy would be ranked as the single highest performing public-school district in New York State.

For six years in a row, its students’ acceptance rate to four-year colleges has been 100%—meaning that every one of its high school graduates has gone on to an undergraduate institution.  Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of those have been accepted at our nation’s most selective colleges, including many Ivy League institutions and dozens of other top colleges and universities across the country.

Every student graduating from Success Academy has also taken at least one Advanced Placement exam in high school.

Ken Griffin congratulates Geah Jean-Baptiste, a Success Academy student from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, who is the first Success Academy graduate to attend Harvard. While at Success Academy, Geah won multiple national titles in chess and maintained a perfect grade-point average, spending summers studying biology and molecular engineering at the University of Chicago.

We are not just closing the achievement gap—we’re reversing it. Our largely poor Black and brown kids are outperforming affluent suburban school districts in academic achievement. We’re doing that for $5,000 less per pupil.

At the heart of this remarkable achievement was Moskowitz’s impassioned belief, one shared by the hundreds of Success Academy teachers and administrators, that “all children can thrive and achieve in school, in college, and in life.”  Success Academy’s distinctive K-12 approach was developed as a holistic thirteen-year educational trajectory, combining a high level of academic rigor and expectations, deep engagement with students, and an emphasis on data-driven evidence and results. Paired with these guiding principles is a focus on every detail of the school experience, from the constant upkeep of classrooms, hallways, and courtyards—ensuring that every school building represents a bright, cheerful, and inviting environment—to the striking orange-colored uniforms worn by Success Academy students.

Nana Alawiye, a mother from Ghana who emigrated to New York City, has sent both her daughters to Success Academy.
Photo Credit: Success Academy
When I first came to the States from Ghana I had a neighbor whose child wore this eye-catching uniform, and I always saw students wearing the same uniform and lining up neatly to go into the school across the street. I thought to myself, this is very organized, I like it. My neighbor offered to give me a tour of the school and what I saw had me absolutely certain this is where my kids belong. Eventually we were given a spot at Success Academy Harlem 5. Now, my eighth-grader tells me with complete certainty that she wants to be a lawyer…[My other daughter] leads the entire school; she has the highest GPA.
Nana Alawiye
Success Academy Parent
Nana Alawiye, a mother from Ghana who emigrated to New York City, has sent both her daughters to Success Academy.
Photo Credit: Success Academy

On the one hand, Success Academy students are held to a higher standard of commitment than those at many public schools—including longer school days and a longer school year to help ensure their academic mastery—and, almost without exception, they respond to those higher expectations by rising to the occasion, empowered by a sense of personal agency. In this meritocratic environment where the fruits of success are visible, these students make the most of their opportunity and work hard—charting a path to success in school and far beyond.

Students at Success Academy playing in music class, another of the co-curricular creative, athletic, and intellectual activities promoted by the Success Academy’s schools.

Success Academy students are immersed in a rich array of offerings and activities, notably chess and debate clubs—and a diverse range of cultural classes and programs—dance, art, art history, musical theater, to name a few—that provide a well-rounded learning experience. “We offer art and music and dance and cross-country track and a full complement of offerings,” Moskowitz notes, “because we want kids to enjoy school… to love coming.”

Gabriela Reyes, a Success Academy alumna and current student at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, speaks at the 2023 Success Academy Gala, describing her plans for attending medical school and becoming a surgeon.
During my time at Success Academy, my teachers went beyond the lessons of mathematics, science, literature, and history. In elementary school they taught me to fall in love with reading. In middle school they gave us primary sources and encouraged us to analyze and think. My honors literature teacher taught me about compassion, my theater teacher taught about confidence, and I learned perseverance in AP biology. They all helped me, a girl from the Bronx, dream big about my future. Now I’m studying genetics, calculus, and piano at Dickinson College. I also plan on going to medical school and becoming a surgeon.
Gabriela Reyes
Success Academy Alumna
Gabriela Reyes, a Success Academy alumna and current student at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, speaks at the 2023 Success Academy Gala, describing her plans for attending medical school and becoming a surgeon.

In 2018, Griffin Catalyst provided a $10 million gift to Success Academy to fund the opening of three new public middle schools and sustain the growth of several others.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the opening in August 2020 of  Success Academy’s Ozone Park Middle School in Queens, one of three new schools funded by Ken Griffin’s 2018 gift to Success Academy.

This gift aimed not only to further increase access for New York City students but to help Success Academy become a national model demonstrating the impact and promise of a charter-school approach to public education. “Success Academy is a road map not just for New York but our country,” Ken Griffin declared at the time. “This gift is about momentum.”

We regularly share our groundbreaking curriculum and methods with educators and school leaders across the country. By scaling excellence and reigniting the civic mission of education, Success Academy is leading a movement to reinvent public education.

Nowhere has Success Academy’s accomplishment been more obvious than in the years since the COVID-19 pandemic, when sustained school closures proved devastating to students’ progress across the country.

Almost overnight,  Success Academy developed a “Remote 2.0” program designed to mirror its on-campus school program, from a full day of live instruction to electives such as dance, soccer, debate, chess, and art.  It also immediately equipped every student with a personal laptop or tablet loaded with the necessary software, while teachers received large-scale monitors allowing them to easily see—and keep track of—all their students at once.

The percentage of Success Academy students excelling above grade level and scoring at the highest end of New York State exams—Level 4—coming out of the pandemic contrasted sharply with the performance of the city’s district schools.

As a result, Success Academy students have achieved double, and in some cases triple, the examination pass rates of their district peers, bucking the widespread trend of learning loss that impacted districts across the nation. “The world has fundamentally changed, but the benefits and requisites of education have not,” Eva Moskowitz observed during this period.  “Now is not the time to throw out standards and give up on kids. Being prepared for life—economically, civically, socially, and emotionally—will be even more important once this pandemic is behind us. As educators and adults, we embrace our job of preparing kids for their academic and life journeys.”

Coral, a 10th grader at a Success Academy high school in New York, was inspired by her experience in middle school debate classes to choose the law as her career path.
Photo Credit: Success Academy
I want to be a lawyer, because once I started middle school I realized that the art of debate is something I want to pursue for the rest of my life. Debate gave me that first outlet into seeing that there are really serious issues in the world outside of what I just know, and I can have a hand in making better systems than there are now. I do love a challenge because it pushes me to be better, and without a challenge I just stay stagnant, and the world needs better. Wait for me, 'cause I’m coming!
Coral Harris
Success Academy 10th-Grade Student
Coral, a 10th grader at a Success Academy high school in New York, was inspired by her experience in middle school debate classes to choose the law as her career path.
Photo Credit: Success Academy

Ken Griffin meets with a group of Success Academy students in April 2023, at the Academy’s High School of the Liberal Arts in Midtown Manhattan.

In April 2023, Griffin Catalyst partnered with Success Academy on a second strategic project—this time with a $25 million gift to expand enrollment citywide. This new gift puts Success Academy on the road to accomplishing its next major goal: expanding enrollment by 50% to serve more than 30,000 New York City students, who—like the thousands of orange-uniformed students who have come before—will have opportunities for advancement and growth that they might otherwise never have dreamed of.

50%

Expansion of enrollment enabled by 2023 gift from Griffin Catalyst

Nana Alawiye’s youngest daughter, Yasmine, who followed her older sister Hassana’s path to become a Success Academy student.
Photo Credit: Nana Alawiye
[Now] I don’t have to fear that [my daughters] will be left behind in a school that doesn’t aim high enough. I don’t have to doubt how far either of my girls will get in life. The day that my family got the call that we won the lottery I knew it meant big things. But I didn’t realize how thankful I would be years later knowing that my daughters are on the certain path to college and to their dreams….Thank you as a mother for what you’ve afforded my family…We are forever grateful.
Nana Alawiye
Success Academy Parent
Nana Alawiye’s youngest daughter, Yasmine, who followed her older sister Hassana’s path to become a Success Academy student.
Photo Credit: Nana Alawiye