Educators at 2 Bronx charters elect to join UFT

New Visions Charter School educators celebrate their decision to join the UFT.

By Rob Callaghan

Educators at two New Visions schools in the Bronx on May 25 became the latest two charter schools to join the UFT.

Educators at New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science and New Visions Charter High School for the Humanities have unanimously signed union authorization cards to indicate their support for a union at their schools.

“Going into the process we felt like teachers already had a voice at this school, but we felt it was important to formalize that collective voice,” said Eric Benzel, a math teacher at New Visions Charter HS for Advanced Math and Science.

Prior to the organizing effort, the leadership of New Visions for Public Schools and the boards of the New Visions’ charter high schools were in discussions with the UFT about the formation of a union at the school. The result of these deliberations was a neutrality agreement.

School management informed the teachers and staff at the schools that the decision to form a union at the school was up to the educators and that no one would be subject to discrimination for their views on union representation.

“We share a philosophy of the importance of collaboration and community in education, and a vision of the centrality of teacher voice to educational change,” said the letter signed by the school board secretary and chair.

Danielle Rivellese, a reading specialist at New Visions Charter HS for the Humanities, underscored the importance of collaboration between the two schools and among leadership and teachers. “The process of forming a union really felt collaborative, like everything at New Visions; it was just another project to collaborate on,” she said. “The union contract will help solidify our spirit of collaboration. “

Rivellese’s colleague Marie Southwell, a 23-year veteran teacher, said that the faculty wanted to ensure that the school’s collaborative nature extended to the decision-making process. “The union is us, and we have to make sure it reflects our culture and our values,” she said. “The union gives us a place at the table to make sure the school is sustainable and teachers have input.”

Over the course of the school year, the teachers and school leadership will begin the process of negotiating school-based contracts.

“All of the staff is excited to take part in the contract negotiation process,” said Benzel.

UFT Vice President Leo Casey went to the school on May 30 to welcome teachers to the union and field questions. Teachers and staff will select staff representatives from each school to serve on the negotiations committee along with Casey.

New Visions Charter HS for the Humanities and New Visions Charter HS for Advanced Math and Science both opened this past September, and each serves approximately 125 students in grade 9. A 10th grade will be added in September. New Visions will open two new schools in the South Bronx in the fall.

Including the two New Visions schools, the union now represents educators at 19 charter schools across the city.