The scoop

Union: KIPP charter leaders are waging an intimidation campaign

The city teachers union is accusing the elite KIPP charter school network of waging an intimidation campaign against teachers who are trying to unionize. The dispute began in January, when teachers at a Brooklyn KIPP school shocked the charter school world by petitioning to join the powerful United Federation of Teachers.

At the time, Dave Levin, KIPP’s cofounder and the superintendent of its New York City schools, indicated that he was open to working with the union — even though many KIPP supporters oppose working with unions, which they argue block schools’ ability to teach at-risk urban students by imposing strict work rules on schools. (KIPP stands for the Knowledge is Power Program.)

Now, the union is accusing Levin of urging teachers not to unionize and painting a bleak picture of what will happen if they do. The accusations are cataloged in two complaints the UFT sent to the state labor board in the last nine days arguing that KIPP is improperly blocking teachers’ ability to unionize. The latest complaint, filed Wednesday, adds to complaints first aired in a Sunday New York Times story reporting that KIPP is resisting the teachers’ organizing drive.

The complaints accuse a KIPP human resources official of telling teachers that he is concerned that the Brooklyn school will lose its affiliation with the KIPP network if they organize; they accuse the school’s founding principal, Ky Adderley, of sitting in the hallway every day to monitor teachers, and they accuse Levin of making a rare attendance at a staff meeting to encourage teachers to reverse their decision to unionize.

Levin and a KIPP spokesman did not return telephone messages requesting comment today.

The letters paint a picture of a chilled atmosphere at the Brooklyn school, called KIPP AMP, since the teachers moved to form a union in January. One complaint describes an exchange between Adderley and two members of the union’s organizing committee. “Have you ever gone sky diving? No?” Adderley is quoted as saying while standing near the teachers. “Its [sic] fun to watch the people’s faces after they jump, they think they’re flying but their [sic] really just falling!”

The union argues that these statements and others by KIPP officials violate New York’s Taylor law, which prohibits employers from interfering with workers’ efforts to unionize.

The KIPP AMP teachers’ effort to unionize aroused alarm at charter schools across New York City, most of which are not unionized. Charter schools get the freedom from unions because, though they are public, they operate outside the regular district system. Most charter school leaders cherish their freedom from unions, which they say allows them to take crucial steps like firing employees who aren’t doing a good job, making the school day longer, and paying teachers based on their performance rather than according to a rigid district-wide pay ladder.

The prospect of a charter school in the KIPP network, one of the nation’s most prominent, falling under a union made charter school leaders concerned that others in the city would follow KIPP’s path.

KIPP AMP teachers said they decided to unionize because they wanted to make their school better. They said they want to have a voice in school policies so that they can demand a more transparent evaluation process and more job protection. They said they do not want a traditional teacher contract, with tenure that makes it difficult to fire teachers after three years. Instead, they pointed to a more flexible contract like the one teachers at the Green Dot charter schools in Los Angeles have negotiated. The Green Dot contract replaces tenure with a job security provision called “just cause.”

By the account included in the union’s complaints, KIPP appears to have countered the organizing drive by arguing that forming a union would hurt the teachers. A complaint filed yesterday describes the staff meeting Levin attended last Friday, February 6:

Levin referred to the union representation at KIPP AMP and the staff’s present benefits, i.e, retirement, maternity leave, private pensions, etc. Levin told the employees: “all of that goes away,” “all of that is potentially in jeopardy”. By these statements, Levin pressured employees present at the staff meeting to withdraw their support of the union or they would lose their pension, maternity leave, or other benefits.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”