Myth: Charter schools are never unionized.
Fact: Some charter schools are unionized but opt for a less-restrictive contract.
While most charter schools are not unionized, some are -- and all charter school employees have the right to be unionized to the same extent as traditional district school employees.
For this week’s myth-busting school, we take a look at Bronx Community Charter School, which was founded by two public school teachers who wanted to make a difference in the lives of children – and empower their educators and staff to have a strong voice. Here’s their story.
What happens when two public school teachers see a huge problem in their district -- one that leaves families with no real options?
For Martha Andrews and her fellow teacher and school co-founder, Sasha Wilson, the answer was to open a great charter school. That is what they did and how Bronx Community Charter School came about.
“We were teachers in District 10,” said Andrews. “It was very clear to us that families in District 10 needed more choices. And we are currently the only charter elementary school.”
She continued, “We wanted to offer something different than what kids get in a traditional district school. We have small classes, and we’re a small school of 350 students in K-5.We have two teachers in every classroom of 25 kids. We spend time getting to know our students as individuals.”
Andrews said that every adult in the school knows every child in the school. Their curriculum and model is grounded in knowing that kids work best when their adults know them very well. It’s a point of pride that they have been able to foster a real sense of community and respect.
The school started 100 kids in K-1 and 16 staff members and has grown. This is the school’s seventh year. The school student body is very diverse. Their plan is to add a middle school.
“More than 15 home languages are spoken in our school,” said Andrews. “Our families come from a wide range of places and are mostly Latino, West African, and African-American. 85% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch.”
Andrews said that the put a lot of emphasis on project-based learning.
“We start the year with a six week all-school study where the whole school learns something together. This year, the project was on the Bronx River. Part of the research was spent canoeing on the river, spending time on the riverbanks, and examining the ecosystem. The kids designed projects around the river and each project is geared towards the appropriate ages and grades of the students.”
For instance, the kindergarten students learned about the animals that live in a river and the older students would study things like erosion and how the river has changed over time. Then the entire school presents their findings to their families. Andrews says it’s a way to connect the entire school and get the kids excited about learning. You can read more about the project here.
There is something else that is special about Bronx Community Charter. The staff is unionized with the UFT. It’s a slimmer contract than what the UFT has with the city schools and Andrews said it works well for her school and was an opportunity to empower the teachers.
Andrews said, “We believe strongly in the importance of the union. It was an incredibly amicable process to codify our contract. This ensures teacher voice throughout the school.”
Andrews does not shy away from the conversation about being unionized. In fact it’s another reason she is proud of her school - which is working well for both the students and the teachers.
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