With jobs on line, charter teachers unionize

By Rob Callaghan

Teachers from the Imagine Me Leadership Charter School have chosen to join the UFT.

The head of Imagine Me Leadership Charter School on April 5 sent a letter to all faculty and staff informing them that they would be terminated as of June 26, the last day of school, and would have to reapply for jobs.

“I’m really not pleased at the way teachers here have been treated — it is downright disrespectful,” said parent Ronald Lang, who serves on the school’s leadership team. “A lot of the students here have emotional issues. The teachers at the school refuse to give up on them and will not let the students give up on themselves.”

Educators reached out to the UFT in response to the letter and on May 1 they announced their decision to join the union.

“Charter school educators are organizing because they want a collective voice in order to create better schools,” said Anne Goldman, the UFT assistant to the president for charter schools and vice president-elect for non-Department of Education members. “I’m excited to welcome these brave educators into the UFT family.”

The school, an all-boys elementary school in East New York, opened in 2010 and has seen four different administrations since then. When the latest group of administrators took the reins in February, they assured staff that they wouldn’t “clean house” and then promptly sent out pink slips to everyone. Some of the newly posted jobs offered salaries far below the current salary rate and demanded more qualifications.

Elisa Brothers, another parent at Imagine Me, said the high turnover in school leadership and the recent termination notices have been rough on the students.

“The letter of termination to the teachers was sent at the wrong time and done in the wrong manner,” she said. “My son has been here since the school opened its doors, and I have seen multiple principals come and go. These are young, impressionable boys who are being passed from one administration to another.”

Like parents, staff at Imagine Me realize the importance of consistency for their students. As special education teacher and intervention team coordinator Edward Matthews noted, “I believe we owe our children a sense of stability that their teachers, whom they trust, will be there for years to come.”

School counselor and student support team coordinator Kiana Muschett said that she and her colleagues also believed the move to join a union would ensure a quality education for their students.

“I want to feel secure that all decisions are made in the best interest of my students to guarantee their success socially, emotionally and academically,” she said.

The UFT has asked the school’s board of trustees to voluntarily recognize the teachers union. In addition, the union notified the state Public Employment Relations Board that Imagine Me teachers are seeking union recognition.

The school employs about 26 educators in grades K–3 and plans to expand up to grade 5 by the 2014-2015 school year.

Originally published in the May 16, 2013 New York Teacher