January 13, 2009
KIPP Teachers Organize
by Leo Casey. From Edwize.
In a ground-breaking development, the teachers of KIPP AMP Charter
School in Brooklyn today informed their co-principals that they were
organizing themselves into a union and seeking official recognition
from the state Public Employees Relations Board.
A super-majority of the KIPP AMP teaching faculty has signed
authorization cards with the United Federation of Teachers, well in
excess of the threshold needed for official recognition under state
labor law for public employees.
In a letter delivered to co-principals Jeff Li and Melissa Perry this
morning, the teachers said that they had decided to unionize in order
to secure teacher voice and respect for the work of teachers in their
school. We want "to ensure that the [KIPP] motto of `team and family'
is realized in the form of mutual respect and validation for the work
that is done [by teachers] each day," they wrote.
The letter stressed that the decision to organize was directly
connected to the teachers' commitment to their students. "[A] strong
and committed staff," the teachers wrote, "is the first step to
student achievement." Unionization, the teachers believe, will help
create the conditions for recruiting and retaining such a staff.
"We organized to make sure teachers had a voice, and could speak their
minds on educational matters without fearing for their job," says KIPP
AMP teacher Luisa Bonifacio.
"For us," KIPP AMP teacher Emily Fernandez explains, "unionization is
ultimately all about student achievement, and the ability of teachers
to best serve students at this crucial middle school time in their
KIPP AMP teachers believe that the high staff turnover at the school
has harmed their efforts to build a positive and consistent school
culture for their students. "There is a need to make the teacher
position more sustainable," says Bonifacio, "so that teachers don't
burn out, but are able to make a long-term commitment to the students
and the school."
KIPP AMP teacher Leila Chakravarty makes a powerful case that
organizing a union is necessary to "build a sustainable community in
our school" and address the problem of teacher turnover. "Because as
KIPP teachers we are so invested in our kids and form such close bonds
with them, because we are always available to our students by
telephone and email and spend ten hours every day with them, it is so
vital and important that they feel they can count on us, and we will
continue to be there. When they become close to a teacher who is gone
in three months because she has burnt out, it undermines the trust we
are working so hard to build."
The teachers at KIPP AMP have received strong support for their
organizing efforts from the parents and families at the school.
At the same time as the KIPP AMP teachers informed their principal of
their decision to organize, UFT President Randi Weingarten reached out
to KIPP co-founder and New York City Superintendent Dave Levin,
informing him of the developments at the school and of the UFT's
intention to enter into collective bargaining at another New York City
KIPP school, KIPP Infinity Charter School, where the teaching staff
are members of the UFT.
Weingarten told Levin that the KIPP teachers and the UFT want to work
cooperatively with KIPP to ensure that its New York City schools
provide the very best education for their students and families. She
asked KIPP to recognize the unionization of the KIPP AMP teachers
immediately so that this work could begin without delay.
"KIPP teachers want what all good teachers want — the respect, the
support and the tools necessary to do the best possible job of
educating their students," Weingarten said. "Organizing into a union
of educational professionals will give them the collective voice and
support to make that happen."
"We know that teacher turnover is a major concern across the charter
school movement," Weingarten noted. "The unionization of KIPP's New
York City schools provides a unique opportunity to create a model of
sustainable teacher recruitment, development and retention."
Since the original KIPP Academy Charter School is a conversion charter
school with UFT representation, educators at three of the four KIPP
schools in New York City will now be members of the UFT.