The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Big Changes Afoot for Lefferts Gardens Charter School

Congrats to the Lefferts Gardens Charter School on choosing its new school leader. He's Michael Windram, most recently of the Mott Haven Academy. After a national search for a new principal, the board and parent's association seems very pleased with their choice and hopes to start its fourth year on solid footing, knowing that its home on Parkside will be its home - the co-location has been approved for permanent status. The capable Wendy Ramos, Bronx Charter School of the Arts, was hired this year as head of operations; and Katrina Raben as curriculum coordinator. There's been a bit of a shakeup on the board as well, and the probably too small current board is looking to find strong new members. All in all, things are looking up.

One last thing to note, and it's no small passing tidbit. I've noted here before that I think it's worthy of note that the "progressive" charter school movement seems to have no problem with union-busting, as the vast majority of charters choose to form without UFT support (New American Academy's new charter opening this fall being a rare exception). But just recently, LGCS teachers sent a letter to the administration and board stating their intention to form a union, allied with the United Federation of Teachers. In other words, LGCS will be unionized, assuming the board doesn't decide to go all Ronald Reagan and fire them all like in his union crippling move of 1981. Given what I've seen - great teachers and a warm, tight-knit family vibe at the school, this is more about protections and job security, and about the basic rights that workers have fought so hard over the last century to secure for themselves. [When I sat for awhile on an unsuccessful bid to build a charter school, I couldn't get around how uncomfortable I was with the way the charter movement took for granted the idea that school's are always better if they have no union. Well, we've all heard the horror stories about rubber rooms and wretched teachers who should've been fired years ago. But does that mean that teachers should be denied basic workers contracts? I firmly believe that schools are better when teachers are happiest and most supported. They must be good teachers sure. But like any workplace, they must feel secure and know that they have the tools and the security and the backup to grow and succeed. Fear is never a good motivator - and I think that's been the problem with teacher testing from the get-go. It's a management's not about making better teachers. It may be useful in getting rid of the worst of the worst. But dang you should be able to spend a day or two in the classrom and figure that out yourself!! Why put ALL the kids through the stress of tests for that?]

Interesting. Very interesting.

Anyhoo, congrats LGCS on a successful consummation of your search!


Anonymous said...

Is this move to unionize a reaction to something, or just an attempt to ensure that their rights are protected from any sort of future abuse? I'm not anti-union, I'm just genuinely curious to hear if anyone knows if this move was sparked by anything in particular.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it illegal fire your employees for trying to unionize?

Anonymous said...

The teachers at LGCS feel that the administration and BOT do not value them. They are unable to voice their opinions for fear of being fired. This might sound crazy to some people, but there was a meeting at the school this week and a lot of things that were happening in the school were brought to light. Things most parents were unaware of. I for one want my child's teachers to feel secure and happy in their job, so if that means unionizing, so be it. The board are totally against it of course. They don't want their power taken away. If they did their job properly in the first place, the teachers wouldn't have to go this route.

As for firing teachers for trying to unionize...the board also mentioned the teachers will find out at the end of this month if they are welcome back next year. They said it's based on their evaluations but we'll see.

I really hope this school gets it together fast!!

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Thanks Anon 9:41 for your perspective. I've tried to be fair in my posts on LGCS, but I too have seen that the past couple years have been problematic. It's why I've stressed the need for a new strong leader, someone who leads and advocates for the teachers.

It may well be, in fact, that this move to unionize becomes a flashpoint for unionization throughout the charter movement. I've updated my post accordingly. My feeling have become quite strong on the subject.

To its credit, the school has made itself very transparent. For those wanting to know more about the past years, see the documents on its website including notes from board and P.A. meetings. I thank the school for its openness. It's a sign of strength.

Personally, all this recent activity sounds enormously constructive. I know it seems painful right now. But when you say, anon, that the admin and BOT don't value the teachers, remember things are about to go through a big change. If everything is the same six months from now, then yes, the problem may be systemic.

I would remind everyone, that a board of trustees is meant, when running effectively, to SUPPORT the staff and admin, not the other way around. Yes, they hold ultimate responsibility. But they should not micro-manage. They do not hold the advanced degrees in education. They do not have the experience in running schools. They may not even have the right interpersonal skills or business credentials. Everyone, down to the last person, is meant to support the teacher, who is, in my opinion, the single most important adult in the building.

It's an inverted pyramid, maybe. But when it's working right, the principal should ask the teacher "what I can I do for you," not the other way around. And the board member should ask the principal, "what I can I do for you?"

Okay, enough from the peanut gallery...

The Snob said...

I think that it must be very hard for non-union teachers to see the benefits that 99% of their colleagues are getting thru the UFT. To those of us for whom organized labor is a quaint reminder of days gone by, it's harder to understand and easier to judge. What is the incentive to tough it out in a non-union school when you really need job security (and who doesn't)?

The Snob said...

...ugh, hard to see the benefits and not covet them. That's what I meant.

JDB said...

I certainly don't know anything about the relationship between the board and the teachers but the comments and post seem to make the teachers out to be more important than the students. I don't agree.

There is a big difference between teachers being treated fairly or being valued for the incredibly difficult and important job they do and guaranteed job security which leads to all of the wrong incentives. Teachers have had job security for decades in NYC school and that system failed too many students.

I am not guaranteed job security and the vast majority of people I know don't have job security. None of them are so crippled by the fear of being fired that they can't do their job effectively.

I don't think unionizing the school is per se a bad idea but if the goal is to get UFT style job security than I hope the board is willing to make the hard choices it needs to keep the school independent and innovative.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

JDB: I took pains to call the teachers the most important "adult" in the building. If you need me to state that the students are the most important, I'll do that now. The students should always be the most important people in the school. I actually think that most decisions are made with the students interests in mind, but not everyone agrees what those interests are. In this post, I'm talking about the best ways to effective run a school. It's a business, ultimately, but each classroom is also it's own unique environment, daily dependent on the teacher's skill, creativity, flexibility and yes, happiness with their job. That last bit gets lost. How well do you do when you're pissed at your boss?

Anonymous said...

JDB: Nobody said that the students are not the most important people in the building. I think that's a given. The issue here is that the teachers have not been provided the proper protocol and tools to do their job effectively. This year alone, 3 very qualified teachers have been fired from LGCS. If you ask the admin and BOT why they were fired, they can't tell you because of legal reasons. If you ask the teachers and parents in the know, the reasons are ridiculous. You can't just fire a teacher because they are outspoken and they don't agree with the BOT or they refuse to work all day without a break! This is why these teachers need to unionize. They need to feel that if they make a mistake, (because, come on, we all do at one time or another) they can take the steps to remedy it and not be fired on the spot.

The teachers at LGCS are amazing! We are very lucky to have such a wonderful group of dedicated and hardworking teachers at our school.

The new school leader is really nice. He's very energetic and seems to be dedicated to the schools mission. I just hope we didn't scare him away with all this craziness!!

MadMommaCarmen said...

I won't get into specifics about LGCS, but will attempt to shed light on the union/non-union issue. I've taught in both environments and I feel badly admitting that while with the UFT, I took a lot of things for granted and didn't know how good I had it. Fast forward several years and I accepted a position at a charter school (which meant no union). I loved my job (at first), it paid a hell of a lot more than my public school job but it was professionally terrifying. Everything I did (and didn't do) was scrutinized to death. Colleagues of mine, who were excellent professionals, were written up and berated for not doing things the way the administrators wanted it, even though it went against educational pedagogy. Disagree with the admin and you were shit out of luck. After three months I quit for fear that I was going to have a nervous breakdown.

When we teachers speak of job security, we're not talking about the guarantee that we'll have our job forever and ever, we're simply talking about having the security to do our jobs properly without fear of reprimand or firing based on the whims of the school administration. Teachers constantly get the short end of the stick. Unions help balance that out a little bit. While not perfect, its better than nothing.

JDB said...

Obviously an environment where an employee feels that they can be fired on whims rather than based on a serious evaluation is a problem. An organization run like that is unlikely to be successful.

My point is only that whether there is a union or not there needs to be real consequences for teachers that make serious mistakes or fail in their mission to help students succeed.

Anonymous said...

A teachers' union at the charter school? Wow. And so it goes...

Anonymous said...

It is very disheartening to read prior remarks regarding LGCS teachers and their decision to join the UFT. It is clear that 1) most persons commenting are not educators, or informed educators for that matter, 2) are not educators who have worked in non-unionized and unionized schools, 3) are not educators with years of experience both inside and outside of the classroom, and/or 4) not knowledgeable about the inception of the UFT, its history, and its goal to protect students, not so much teachers, admin, and other school staff.

It is clear from this blog and a few others that the ongoing sentiment at LGCS is teachers versus XXX. Teachers versus the BOARD, who not only pays their salary, but was voted in by the community to lead the school, making financial, senior staffing, and other governance decisions. Teachers versus the administration, whose sole job it is to establish, foster, and monitor the learning and development of students first, then staff. Teachers versus parents who actually challenge teachers’ lack of vigorous instruction, poor behavior management, prejudiced and racist remarks to students and parents, misaligned teaching practices across the grades, lack of test prep, etc… The list is long! Teachers versus other teachers who wanted to “do” their job not try to run the school like unruly children.

It is apparent that those who don’t know the train of causation that lead to the inception of unions like, UFT, do not understand that while the union protects kids, and indirectly the rights of teachers, teachers must also be held accountable to union guidelines.

As a person who is in the know, LGCS staff, many who wanted a union to support the unsubstantiated claims of ‘abuse’ or ‘lack of protection’ were ignorant of the fact that many charters were created union-free to allow educators greater range to “just teach” without the confines of DOE/UFT negotiations.

How many of the teachers read ? Did they realize that given the school’s turmoil and difficult transition period that they were getting away with murder, committing acts that went against guidelines listed in the link above or not being closely accesses as outlined in the teacher evaluation link? Gone are the days of excessive lateness or absence or abandoning job posts without such much as warning, or not having lessons plans, or not teach teaching to the standards, or not discussing college with my kid, or not having proper student portfolios, or covering up peers who actions and words are irresponsible, or ducking out of the building w/o permission, or not preparing for state exams due to personal beliefs or inability, or not maintaining proper communication with me, or refusing to help out during after school programs when needed, or not being regularly evaluated (aka being held accountable). So while the principal can’t routinely collect lessons plans, the plans are a must and may be looked at any time.

Welcome in a new dawn, LGCS—a place where accountability will be increase 100 fold!

I'm glad we took our babies out.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I find it very hard to follow your're FOR the unionization of teachers?

Also, while you say and I don't doubt that you are "in the know," the Board at LCGS was most definitely not voted in by the community. The founding board, made up of neighbors, was accepted by the charter reviewers but had nothing to do with community preference. They had written the charter application, and as far as I know that was their primary qualification. None of them had any experience running a school. The board is at its leisure to add or dismiss members. There is no community review involved. Perhaps one should be added, I don't know. It would seem, at the very least, that many of the activities that have been problematic in the first years of the school have been related to the relative inexperience of all involved. I'm not being negative here. I'm stating what I think even the Board knows to be true - when you're green, mistakes get made, simple as that. Hopefully you learn and move on.

One would hope that in their latest hire for school leader they now have someone with the serious experience to lead effectively, and to even bring some measure of wisdom to the Board as well. There should be no need to go through growing pains indefinitely, if a competent Board is in place.

If leadership is lacking, it is incredibly fruitless to blame teachers. They need a successful structure in which to teach...barring that, too much is being expected of them from the outset. We expect so much of our teachers - we can't expect them to be great employees and bosses at the same time.