Daniel S. Loeb put aside discussions with Sony Corp. last night to be the first honoree at the first gala for Success Academy Charter Schools.
With a “no counterparty left behind” philosophy, and feeling “a little bit like Don Fanucci” in “The Godfather,” as he put it, Loeb, the chief executive officer of Third Point LLC, rallied impressive support from the financial-services industry. David Einhorn, Paul Tudor Jones, Rich Handler and John Griffin were at his table; David Tepper, Paul Singer and Scott Bommer were at others, all decorated with “Success” pencils.
“Success is a completely disruptive business model,” Loeb said in the ballroom of the Mandarin Oriental. “Not only does your money go to changing kids’ lives, but if we really succeed, we’ll set a higher bar for all schools to meet.”
The Success model includes teachers whose intensity is a mix of Internet startup and trading desk, and a vast amount of training, maniacal attention to data and replicable processes, Loeb said.
“It’s the Google of charter schools. We’re growing faster, it’s logarithmic,” he added, saying that 11,500 students will be enrolled in two years, up from 7,000 in August.
Loeb and his wife, Margaret, have founded three Success schools in Brooklyn and he is a trustee of the Success Academy Network board. Initially sparked by a screening of the documentary “Waiting for ’Superman,’” Loeb has confidence in Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, whom he called a “kindred spirit, my long lost sister.”
An activist like him, she joked that she liked his “fiery” comments before she knew he was known for them. “Dan has a unique way of urgently pressing for big change, but always thinking about our kids and how to support them,” said Moskowitz, onetime New York City council member.
Loeb, who sat next to former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, introduced the keynote speaker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Education “is more important than any other domestic issue in our country we’re discussing today,” Christie said. “If we don’t get this right, we won’t have the next generation of entrepreneurs” creating “a middle class that’s the envy of the world.”
Success Academy opened its first school in Harlem seven years ago. In August it will have 23 elementary and middle schools in New York City, each located in unused spaces in public schools.
According to Success Academy, by their third year the schools operate solely with public funding for each pupil. In state tests, the schools have outperformed ones in Scarsdale, an affluent New York suburb.
The gala program began with students from the Tufts and MIT class of 2022 introducing themselves (they’re currently at Success Academy Harlem West). Loeb spoke of his favorite high-school teacher. “I still cherish her nickname for me,” -- Milo Minderbinder, from “Catch-22” -- “in honor of my capitalist interests even back then.”
At “recess,” waiters served salmon. Afterward guests convened outside the ballroom for milk and cookies.
The event raised $7 million including a $1 million gift from the Robin Hood Foundation and a Loeb-family contribution of $3 million. Most of the money will go toward startup costs of new schools in the network.
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)