By Rob Callaghan
For the staff at the New York City Charter HS for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries (AECI) and their supporters, the waning days of summer has meant a campaign for justice.
Since the beginning of August, teachers, parents and community activists have been reaching out to the school’s board and administration to demand that they respect teachers’ rights and return to contract negotiations, which reached an impasse last Dec. 30.
“The whole staff has really been engaged in the process of creating a contract that works best for both the teachers and students at AECI, and we’ve been met with resistance from the board and administration the entire time,” said art teacher Anna Lambert of the negotiating committee.
In January 2010, educators at the South Bronx school formed a union to provide a positive and stable school culture for their students. A few months later, the board formally recognized the union, and contract negations began on June 9, 2010.
After more than two years, however, there has been little progress made on the contract because the board and the administration were not committed to the process, teachers said.
In fact, according to the staff, the administration at AECI has engaged in a campaign of intimidation against teachers, particularly those who have spoken out at board meetings and in contract talks. Many of these teachers have been either suspended, terminated or disciplined by the administration.
When health teacher Mike Toro, who was fired, asked why he received an ineffective rating, the administration couldn’t answer his question.
“There was no rubric for teacher evaluation. It felt like they had their own agenda and that our assessments were based on that agenda,” he said.
Lissette Castillo, a 10th-grade English teacher, said, “The atmosphere at the school is really demoralizing; unless we get a contract that has due process, grievance and fair evaluation, this will continue to happen and we will lose our best educators for no reason at all.”
Teachers and staff said they just want to focus on educating their students free from harassment and with a contract in place.
“It’s really sad because it should be about the kids,” Castillo said. “It’s hard to still love the job you do when you feel so defeated. We just don’t want to feel scared anymore. We just want to teach our kids without having to look over our shoulder.”