The latest Success Academy report card’s out.  Among the schools’ 4,231 test-takers (61% African-American, 26% Hispanic), 94% passed the New York State math test and 82% passed English — compared with just 36% and 38% city-wide.

Reports Success founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz:

This means that our schools rank in the top 1% of all New York State schools in math and the top 1.5% in English. In fact, all of the state’s top five schools in math are Success Academies, as are two of the top five in English. Our scholars outperformed such affluent suburbs as Scarsdale and many of the city’s selective gifted and talented programs. And I am especially proud of our most vulnerable scholars: 79% of our students with disabilities passed math and 52% passed English (compared with 11% and 9% citywide); 60% of our English Language Learners passed English and 90% passed math (compared with 4% and 13% citywide).the US

In a city where hundreds of thousands of children are trapped in failing schools, our results reflect the determination and hard work of the entire Success community – our faculty and staff, our parents and families, and our steadfast supporters. When our scholars achieve at these high academic levels, we know that they are on the path that leads to all of life’s possibilities. This is what we strive for … every day … and for every child.

I’ve been writing about Success for a long time now. (For example, here and here.) Imagine how much better America will be once there are 4,100 such schools in the country’s most challenged neighborhoods instead of just 41. They cost no more than regular public schools, yet the results are spectacular.  And by breaking the cycle of poverty, will have tremendous “knock-on” effects for generations to come. And will raise income tax revenues while lowering safety net expenditures and criminal justice costs.  I get giddy thinking about this.

On a much (much!) smaller scale, I got word this week that my fourth BuildOn school has been completed, this one in Southern Mali, in the unfortunately named Moron Village.  “Moron” is Bamanakan for . . . oh, look at that: Google Translate doesn’t do Bamanakan.  I’ll get back to you.

The first school structure ever in this village of 2,000, it has three classrooms and two gender-specific latrines; desks, seats, and permanent chalkboards. It broke ground February 23 and was completed on May 13. Students began attending two weeks later.  I have a photo.  They look happy.

Like my other three schools, this one will be named The Allard K. Lowenstein School, with a plaque in English and Bamanakan that reads: “He lived to make the world better.  Now it’s your turn.”  (Al was a friend and inspiration to many, including, obviously, me.)  My four are among the more than 1,000 schools BuildOn has erected in impoverished parts of the world — none more challenging than Mali. “Our work in Mali is extremely difficult,” BuildOn founder Jim Ziolkowski wrote me, “but even more important because of the presence of Al Qaeda.  They have a foothold there but it is shrinking.  Education defeats terrorism every time.”

Because the labor is supplied free by the local villagers — a combined 2,682 volunteer workdays on this latest one — and the schools are small and simple, it costs a donor only about what it costs to build a nice in-ground swimming pool here in the U.S.  As I already have one of those, I face no tough choice — pool? school?  Pool?  School?  How to decide?

But that brings me to Miami Beach, where the news — at least in this regard — is not as good for me as it is in Harlem, with Success Academy, or Moron Village, with the opening of this new school.

BACKGROUND: I have a small condo in a well-run 20-year-old high rise — gorgeous Italian-marble lobby, concierge desk, security fobs for the elevators — my friends, knowing how cheap I am, could not believe it when I first moved in.  (And yes: it has a pool. Who lives like this? I count my blessings quarter-hourly.)

Around comes a notice two winters ago that the board has solicited bids to spiff up the lobby and entryway.

There is nothing wrong with the lobby.

Okay, it looks a little Romanesque — the columns may be more to your grandmother’s liking than to yours — but, hey: it’s a large, gorgeous, spotless, well-functioning space.  Why spend $50,000 or $100,000 to “fix” it?  Was the condo board simply . . . bored?

So I asked around and found out that, no, it wasn’t going to be $50,000 or $100,000 divvied up among us 140 unit-owners — it was going to be $850,000!

And they were going to jackhammer out all that beautiful imported Italian marble!

And replace it with different beautiful imported marble — and fix the columns and in other ways modernize and improve it because, I was told, our real estate values would go up if the lobby and entryway looked better.

I don’t want my real estate values to go up.

Why would I?  I’m not selling; and higher real estate values mean higher property taxes each year.

I had just gotten the report on my previous new school — also in Mali — which like the first two in Nicaragua had cost me $32,000 each (less the value of the tax-deduction).  And so it was the “pool? school?” dilemma all over again, lacking only a synonym for “school” that rhymes with “lobby.”  (A writer’s life is not an easy one.)

I went to the condo board chairman, a wealthy Republican, and suggested that instead of $850,000 to spiff the lobby we build 28 schools instead. Or spend $100,000 to spiff the lobby (surely we could do something nice with $100,000) and  build 25.

After all, I argued (respectfully, buying him an iced tea and hoping, because he told me he had recently given $2 million to his place of worship, he might also want to build a school on his own*), there would be months of inconvenience while the work was being done.

He said, no, it would be swell, and the condo owners had voted for it. (Don’t get me started on how railroaded that was.) And the inconvenience would be minimal.

So — not being entirely surprised — I reverted to Plan B.  I proposed that I be allowed to send each unit holder a note like this:

We’re about to spend $850,000 to modernize our entry.

It’s going to be beautiful!

But as I posted on the bulletin board before the vote, for the same money we could build 28 schools in poor countries and change the lives of tens of thousands of children — and thus THEIR children’s children, as well.

So let’s do both!

Imagine knowing, every time we entered the building, that by matching our assessment with an equal contribution to BuildOn, we’d improved so many lives.  A beautiful new lobby and 28 new schools,

Realistically, not everyone will choose to chip in.  I get that.  Then again, some may choose to do even more!  And if we only raise enough to build a dozen schools instead of 28?  Pretty awesome, too.

So WHATEVER you can afford to contribute will have high impact: all the labor is local volunteer from the community itself.

Thanks in advance for your (tax-deductible!) generosity.

Your Enthusiastic Neighbor

He said no.

The good news is that after nearly a year of demolition and delayed marble delivery and the disabled security system and no lobby at all — just a narrow passageway bounded by plywood that’s been depressing and inconvenient and really kind of awful for a year — it’s almost done!  So for someone living in the building for 10 years, only 10% of it was a living hell (lobby-wise) in order to spend $850,000 to spiff it up.

I called a friend in the building just now to ask how it was looking.  “It’s okay,” he said. “Kind of Trumpian, with lots of shininess.  It looks as though it should be done this fall.”

Moron Village, indeed.

*He did not.



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