Monday, March 16, 2009

Harassed Teacher Withdraws From KIPP Unionization Push

Teacher Kashi Nelson, a leader in the push for Unionization at KIPP-AMP in Brooklyn, NY, has withdrawn her support of unionization at her school.

Citing the pressure of the workload and the school administration's retaliatory measures against the pro-unionization teachers, Nelson stated, "I just don’t see how having the union be a part of our everyday life will help.”

Before Nelson, who has a daughter that attends the school, announced she was backing down, “It got ugly,” she said. “It was really bad.” Retaliation against the teachers included rumors of teacher firings, no longer praising teachers in newsletters, administrators not speaking to teachers or answering direct communications from teachers, the principal sitting in the hallway to monitor teacher activities, an emergency meeting with Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP, in which he told teachers to reconsider their union request, and meetings with school administrators in which teachers were told pensions and benefits were in jeopardy and asked for the "dirt" on the pro-union teachers.

Originally, 15 of 20 KIPP AMP teachers signed on to a letter explaining they wanted to unionize in order to reduce teacher turnover and create a more stable environment in the school. The contract they were asking for was a tenure-less one, simply stating that

Administrators would have to prove “just cause” before firing a teacher, and discipline would follow a graduate scale, including measures to support struggling teachers.

Later, a 16th teacher pledged her support.

The KIPP teachers love their school, love their students, spend 10 hours a day with their students,and are accessible to the children in their classes 24/7 via email, text, and cell phone.

Here are some other reasons why the teachers at KIPP AMP have worked as hard as they have for unionization (emphasis mine):

KIPP AMP teacher Leila Chakravarty makes a powerful case that organizing aunion 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... 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.”

“For us, unionization is ultimately all about student achievement, and the ability of teachers to best serve students at this crucial middle school time in their education,” said KIPP AMP teacher Emily Fernandez.

“We organized to make sure teachers had a voice and could speak their minds on
educational matters without fearing for their job,” said KIPP AMP teacher Luisa Bonifacio. “There is a need to make the teacher position more sustainable so that teachers don’t burn out, but are able to make a long-term commitment to the students and the school.”

One of the teachers’ goals is to help create a PTA, which up until now has not been permitted. In a letter to parents, the group said, “We value parent input and know a school cannot run effectively without parent involvement and voice.”

“I firmly believe in the importance of having a school that’s viable and sustainable for the students who attend here,” said Kashi Nelson, a KIPP AMP social studies teacher who has a daughter in the school. “As a member of this school community, I am
committed to doing whatever it takes to make our school a place we all feel good

In a telephone interview Sunday, Nelson said that she didn't know what would happen with the movement to unionize at KIPP AMP, but stated that it might become unionized but the teachers who voted to do so wouldn't be there.

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