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Citing high turnover, Brooklyn KIPP teachers are unionizing

If I hadn’t spent the last several hours in a meeting, I would have conveyed this dramatic news sooner: Teachers at one of the country’s most prominent charter school networks, KIPP, have decided to buck their board members‘ skeptical attitudes towards teachers unions — and organize.

Fifteen of 20 teachers at KIPP AMP in Brooklyn, a middle school, today sent a letter to the school’s board of trustees declaring their intention to form a union with the United Federation of Teachers. The president of the union, Randi Weingarten, signed the letter.

In letters to fellow city teachers, the KIPP AMP teachers explain that they want to “create a more sustainable culture so that we can better serve our students and reduce teacher turnover.” They said they’re asking for a “basic contract” that sounds, in their short description, kind of like the slim, tenure-less Green Dot contract: Administrators would have to prove “just cause” before firing a teacher, and discipline would follow a graduate scale, including measures to support struggling teachers.

The union also announced today that teachers at a second KIPP charter school, KIPP Infinity, would like to enter collective bargaining talks. KIPP Infinity’s teachers were already represented by the union, in an agreement that guaranteed them health insurance and other benefits, but now want to negotiate a job contract. In a letter released today, UFT official Michael Mendel asked KIPP Infinity’s board for detailed information on the school’s employees and their salary and benefits details.

The two moves represents a dramatic victory for the UFT, which has been campaigning to bring charter school teachers into its fold for at least the last year. If other charter school teachers in New York City follow suit, the unionization effort could also mark a significant turning point for the charter school movement, which has often scorned unions.

Here’s how the KIPP AMP teachers explained their decision in a letter to the school’s two principals, arguing that their demands will help the school improve:

Teachers and professionals must have a voice in the creation and implementation of school policy. We must have our concerns as professionals recognized and addressed. We must be evaluated in a clear and transparent manner and given support when we need it. We must feel secure in our employment so that concerns as well as ideas can be voiced in a trusting environment.

KIPP AMP opened in 2005 and got a low A on its progress report.

I called KIPP co-founder Dave Levin but haven’t heard back from him yet today. I’ll keep updating this story today and tomorrow.

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