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Teacher Kashi Nelson, a leader in the push for Unionization at KIPP-AMP in Brooklyn, NY, has withdrawn her support of unionization at her school.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

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"These are Baghdad numbers. These are war zone numbers"

From our local paper, the Commercial Appeal, comes this article about the latest child to be murdered in Memphis.

On March 11th, an entire floor of Hamilton High School students erupted into a fight between the Bloods and the Crips. Ten kids were arrested, many were hurt, and one of the kids who was arrested and released that day, Rozelle Green, was fatally shot that evening in a spillover of the school fight.

Parents had been concerned about potential violence at Hamilton since 2007 when the school board voted to merge Southside High and Hamilton High, forcing students from rival neighborhoods and gangs together. The Memphis City Schools system merged the schools due to a drop of enrollment at Southside and a desire to continue to provide those students with access to a variety of academic and enrichment programs.

Now, in the name of free market education and closing down failing schools, school mergers are becoming even more common, as well as increased violence and deaths of school children. No more so than in Arne Duncan's former school district, http://http//,chicago-school-violence-record-cps-031109.article , where 508 students have been shot in the last 16 months. Five hundred eight school children shot in one and a half school years.
17-year-old Rozelle Green Jr. dreamed of being a High School Graduate. He would have graduated in two months.

Rozelle "Kept telling me, 'Dad I'm going to graduate,'" Green's father, Rozelle Green, Sr., said Friday.
Green's sister, Markisha Wilson, says life will never be the same without her big brother. "He made me laugh when I was mad," she said. "We used to be together all the time."
Green was shot to death outside his girlfriend's house Wednesday night.

"I ran to where he was at and when I got there he was laying out in the grass, and they said he had no pulse," his father said.

Wilson added Rozelle recently received a reward from school for "Most Improved," saying the school's new principal made an impact on him. "He really did help my son out," she said.

Well, I'm Struggling...

I've been MIA for a while. It started with going back to school in January to start my doctoral program in Ed Research. Then, I had two conferences back to back. And I had a couple other trips thrown in there somewhere. I still have my toiletries in an airport security baggie.

If I had been on top of things I would have blogged at the time about the Learning and the Brain Conference I went to, particulary the discussion of developing teachers' social-emotional capacity. It was fantastic. Then I went to COPAA's annual conference (Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates) and attended a fantastic whole day workshop on creating quality Functional Behavior Assessments and Positive Behavioral Intervention Plans. I've scanned the excellent handouts and if you'd like copies, email me.

But honestly I haven't written much recently because I'm struggling with the complexities. On a list serve digest I received recently someone wrote, "We're losing the war.(Duh)."

As we get farther and farther away from individualized, developmentally appropriate education and more and more entrenched in defining "quality" teachers, students, schools, and public education as a certain score on a nationalized standardized test, I find myself increasingly frustrated. I feel that I'm a smart person... I should be able to figure out a way to win the war. I've studied how change has been activated by the netroots. I've learned about lobbying Congress for changes in the law. I have a first hand understanding of the system.

Yet...those of us in the education internet community cannot get organized. We do not have a shared vision. We should work to get rid of NCLB. No, to overhaul education all together. No, I'm going to advocate for my particular pet educational method. How about addressing societal influences on education such as poverty, violence, and illiteracy. No, let's advocate for un-schooling...or homeschooling. Should we support charters, or not? How about merit pay? Unions? It goes on and on. We're constantly playing defense, reacting against the framing of the standardista reformists. Should we organize (without unions who have not been addressing the work place environment)and demand that all teachers refuse to give the standardized test or walk out (and lose their jobs)? Or is that asking too much? (Short answer: yes).

While we flounder, guess who has met with President Obama regarding education? Hint: it's not educators. See and and