Teacher's Desk: Unions & Charters

In New York the teachers union wants to organize a couple of KIPP charter schools. That couldn't be done in Denver without concessions by the local union, since every charter school employee is an “at will” employee as is written into all charter contracts with school districts or the state. No doubt NYC union teachers were severely disturbed with the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) required work week, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, the teachers are fairly compensated for the longer hours. Most teachers at charter schools would be considered probationary teachers at a district school. Why? Most of these teachers either do not have an initial license, professional license or have less than three years service at their schools. In Colorado, a probationary teacher is also an “at will” employee. The teacher’s contract can be non-renewed and the district does not need to give a reason. The teacher is then banned from working at any school in the district. I learned about this law the hard way when I worked at a Denver district high school. I was nearing the end of my last probationary year, when the interim principal who had only been in that position for three weeks and had previously retired from an elementary school assistant superintendent position, popped into my classroom, observed my instruction for only five minutes and then asked to speak with me after school. According to Colorado law, he didn’t need to step foot in my class. It was a crazy class that day with everyone and their father popping their heads in needing something. After a slow start, and after the interim principal’s departure, I had one of my better instructionally executed classes on finding the area of a circle.

I used my right to grieve and won my grievance as he did not use evaluative measures spelled out in the Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association’s contract with Denver Public Schools. Those evaluative measures are best practices and are used at every school I’ve worked with. Teachers are asked what instructional and academic goals they have for themselves that school year. The evaluating principal (sometimes it is an assistant principal) sets up an appointment to observe, observes, speaks to the teacher about what he saw, does a few “walk-throughs” during the course of year, pops in and observes another class, speaks to the teacher about what he saw, fills out an evaluation form and again speaks with the teacher. Sometimes the evaluating principal will also speak with colleagues and/or survey students so he has a well-rounded picture of the teacher’s work ethic and instructional ability. I had good evaluations before this “school leader’s” decision to derail my career and since. I won the battle, but because of Colorado’s probationary teacher law, I lost the war---so I thought.

The community, my colleagues, and my students were mortified, as was I, when we heard of my non-renewal, and both students and colleagues tried to speak with the interim principal to no avail. The students were told it was “none of your business.” The students and parents threw me a terrific going-away party with students pitching in their own cash on a massive fifty dollar cake.

I checked with my colleagues the following year and discovered the interim principal had hired an African-American friend, like himself, as my replacement.

Poor school leadership practices are why teachers’ unions flourish and why there is tremendous growth in the charter school movement. I applied for positions to charter schools close to my home and where I had previous relationships because they have their own hiring practices and do not participate in the non-renewal ban. Not only was I treated very well, but they also gave me recognition for a job well done. How often do any of us receive that!