The scoop

Second set of KIPP teachers strike back, separating from union

Teachers at two New York City KIPP charter schools today asked state labor officials to sever their ties from the city teachers union, in petitions signed by every single teacher at the two schools. The move is a powerful response to efforts by teachers at another KIPP school in Brooklyn, KIPP AMP, who in the past few months have sought to join the politically powerful union, the United Federation of Teachers.

Teachers at KIPP Infinity and KIPP Academy charter schools, considered the two premier members of the high-profile charter network’s New York City branch, sent the petitions. The schools’ affiliations with the union were loose to begin with: KIPP Academy is represented by the union only because it was one of the city’s original charter schools, and it could only transition to charter status on the condition that it remained represented by the teachers union, and KIPP Infinity teachers are represented by the union only in order to get health benefits through the union’s services, KIPP leaders have told me.

But the union has courted a more formal relationship in recent months, according to a press release sent out this morning by KIPP Infinity and Academy teachers. The union tried to begin collective bargaining talks with KIPP Infinity — without consulting with any KIPP Infinity teachers, the release says. The union also filed a grievance against KIPP Academy “without solicitation or support of staff,” the release says.

The teachers say they don’t want to be represented by an outside group such as the union because they worry that “could compromise the strong environment of communication and collaboration that is integral to the success of our schools.”

The statement strongly contradicts the position of teachers at KIPP AMP, who have said that UFT representation would help facilitate more collaboration and communication — and would help them do their jobs better. They have also charged the KIPP charter school network with actively trying to derail their efforts, filing complaints with the Public Employee Relations Board accusing KIPP of waging an intimidation campaign against teachers who want to organize.

KIPP leaders have traditionally touted their freedom from teachers unions as a strength, because it allows them to hire and fire as they please. Whether the KIPP AMP teachers will force the network to step away from that position is up to the state labor relations board, which has to decide whether to grant their request to be represented by the UFT. The board is expected to reach a decision in the next few weeks.

Here’s the full press release:

From the Teachers of KIPP Academy and KIPP: Infinity

On Wednesday, March 18, 2009, the teaching staffs of KIPP Academy Charter School in the Bronx, New York, and KIPP Infinity Charter School in Manhattan, submitted to the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) official petitions for decertification of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) as our certified negotiating representative.  These petitions were signed and supported by every staff member at each school.

It is with great consideration that we take this next step in the life of our schools.  We, the undersigned teaching staffs of KIPP Academy and KIPP: Infinity, feel the success we have attained to this point in our schools is largely because of the close relationship between all those interested in our students’ well-being, from students to families to school staff.  While we have nominally been unionized, the collective bargaining agreement has never been a prominent factor in deciding what is best for our students, our team, and our family.  Rather, we solve problems using communication among staff members and working collaboratively with administration to best serve the needs of our students and families.  We have found that this method of problem solving has fit our situations well, and we plan to continue following this model of open, positive communication among students, families, and staff in the future.

In recent months, the UFT has made clear its desire to play a more active part in the day-to-day operations of our schools.  Two examples illustrate this point.  In January, the UFT sent a letter to the KIPP: Infinity Board of Directors with the goal of beginning collective bargaining on teachers’ behalf; the UFT neither consulted nor informed the staff of this request.  In addition, a union-initiated grievance has been filed against KIPP Academy without solicitation or support of staff.  It is our belief that the active presence of an external negotiating representative could compromise the strong environment of communication and collaboration that is integral to the success of our schools.

We recognize and respect the historical value of labor unions to protect the rights of workers and ensure quality working conditions, and our decision to decertify the union as our negotiating representative is not a reflection of our feelings either toward unions as a whole, or toward the UFT in particular.  We also certainly understand the vital role labor unions have played, and continue to play, in supporting the interests of workers and facilitating communication between labor and management.

With that said, we do not believe that one size fits all.  We firmly believe that the best way to move forward is to continue with what has made our schools great: parents, staff, and administration working cooperatively to teach character and academics in order to prepare our students for high school, college, and the world beyond.  We look forward to continuing to serve the students and families of New York City to the very best of our ability.

Sincerely,

KIPP Academy Staff         KIPP Infinity Staff

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.