Success Academy Charter Schools is the largest and highest-performing free public charter school network in New York State. It’s the size of the seventh largest school district in the state.
Founded in Harlem in 2006 by former New York City Council Member Eva Moskowitz, the organisation now operates 45 schools, enrolling 18,000 students in grades K-12, most of them low-income children of colour, in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. In a city where only one in three children of colour can read or do math at grade level, Success Academy’s scholars have excelled. On the most recent state exams, 99% of Success students passed mathematics and 90% passed English Language Arts. With ambitions to operate 100 schools and enroll 50,000 students over the next decade, Success Academy is driven to innovate in the realm of pedagogy as well as procurement.
Overseeing the organisation’s procurement arm, Vincent Moorehead, Senior Director of Strategic Procurement and Supply Chain, believes that Success Academy is differentiated by a culture of excellence: “Excellence is ingrained in our culture. Our customers are our scholars and their families,” explains Moorehead. “Our work is extremely high stakes. To us, it’s all about consistently raising the bar for what is possible in public education. We need to always be thinking about how we can deliver a great education to our scholars and how we can use each dollar to make the biggest impact in our classrooms.”
Operating efficiencies are critical to Success Academy. With public funding that’s about $5,000 less per student than what district schools spend each year, the network prioritises strong management of its resources. Moorehead has been instrumental in delivering savings. “The role of management is undervalued in public schooling,” says Moskowitz. “Educators everywhere acknowledge the impact of effective teachers, but what is less often recognised—yet essential to creating and sustaining excellent schools—is the need for operational excellence. When the administrative and business aspects of schools are well managed, teachers and principals are freed up to focus entirely on student learning. Vince has been important in helping us achieve this.”
A graduate from Howard University in Washington, D.C, Moorehead worked for several different companies such as United Technologies Corporation, Kearney, and the FBI before joining Success Academy in August 2018. Upon his arrival, the organisation decided to centralise the entire purchasing area across the board. “When I first started, we had so many conversations about what a centralised procurement model would look like,” he says. “If you look at charter schools generally, we are one of the few that has a procurement team. The first thing we had to do was map out an ideal purchasing process for our network of schools. It was vital that we had the right tools, systems, and processes in place for our team to be able to imagine how streamlined this new process could be for our school staff.”
Subsequently, Moorehead set about updating several outdated and broken processes, which led to the implementation of Coupa and a centralised approach. He focused on making the programme as streamlined as possible. “I wanted something that was very user-friendly because our users are educators, not procurement specialists. They should be able to focus on their scholars, not on purchasing orders,” says Moorehead. “I wanted a system in place where they could make requests for classroom supplies in a way that they’re used to, similar to buying something on Amazon. On the backend, our procurement team still has the control, and we can now see what the needs of each classroom are in real time, as our teachers and school leaders make purchase requests. With this knowledge, we’re better prepared for our next school year. We better anticipate what we’ll need to stock in all of our classrooms based on what our educators request this year.”
Having overseen many ERP implementations over the years, Moorehead affirms that this was one of the least troublesome he’s dealt with. “It was one of the smoothest transitions that I’ve ever been through and we implemented the system in just eight months,” he explains. “We phased out the launch and were able to trial the system before implementing it fully across our network. I’m pleased to say that after the initial hurdle of learning a new system, Success Academy staff members regularly stop me in the hallway and tell me how much easier the new platform is to use.”
Success Academy places significant value on its partnerships. The network has formed several key strategic relationships, such as with The Advance Group, CrossCountry Consulting, KI, and OpenText. Moorehead believes that any prospective partnership must have the right drive and mentality to succeed from the start. “I’m looking for a partner that understands the mission and wants to help us get there,” says Moorehead. “The suppliers that we currently work with understand the challenges that we go through. However, it’s important that there’s mutual benefit and I’m constantly thinking about ways we can help make our suppliers’ jobs easier. By doing this, we can support them not just for the immediate future, but long term too.”
Moorehead affirms that each partnership plays a critical role in ensuring Success Academy runs efficiently. “CrossCountry Consulting was brought on board as our implementation partner to help us roll out our new purchasing system, and they have been outstanding. The team, led by Harpreet Narula, Partner at CrossCountry, had in-depth knowledge of the purchasing system, managed the entire implementation including working with our internal and external technical teams, and was able to help reduce the change management impact on the organisation,” he explains. “OpenText has a digital platform that helps us protect our data — which is critical for us because we’re protecting student privacy. All of our integrations use a partner for error management and manage data as it flows from system to system. OpenText is at the heart of that and has data that flows through it from our Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS) to our financial systems and to our purchasing platform.”
“KI has helped with providing innovative furniture and has been suggesting and updating products to ensure that our school design is as efficient as possible,” says Moorehead. “The Advance Group is our logistics partner. They deliver and install all the furniture in each classroom. Last summer, Success delivered over 300,000 items per classroom across our 45 schools. The Advance Group truly understands the critical nature of our mission and they are a reliable partner in making sure each of our classrooms is ready for scholars on the first day of school.”
With a vision to operate 100 schools in New York City, Moorehead has a clear idea of how to achieve such ambitions. “I’m very optimistic and I believe we will get to 100 schools comfortably. By then, we’ll likely be serving over 50,000 students across New York,” says Moorehead. “That’s the size of the Boston or Atlanta school system.”