Teachers at Chicago’s first union-backed charter school reach tentative contract agreement

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Teachers at a union-backed charter school have come to a tentative
contract agreement with management just months after newly unionized
teachers at Chicago International charter schools ratified their
contract.

The agreement calls for a significantly longer school day with daily
professional development, revamped teacher evaluation and a remediation
process that allows for quick dismissal of under-performing teachers.

Teachers at a union-backed charter school have come to a tentative contract agreement with management just months after newly unionized teachers at Chicago International charter schools ratified their contract.

The agreement calls for a significantly longer school day with daily professional development, revamped teacher evaluation and a remediation process that allows for quick dismissal of under-performing teachers.

   

The Union Park Council of Chicago Association of Charter Teachers and Staff, known as ACTS, represents teachers at Chicago Talent Development High School, who will vote on the agreement by the end of the school year, said lead teacher negotiator Eli Argamaso.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten praised the school’s staff at a press conference this week announcing the agreement. “This is a very special school, because of the work being done here and because of the model being created for other schools,” she said. The AFT backs the charter school concept, and its largest affiliate, in New York City, operates two charters.

Weingarten pointed to the statements from Argamaso and school CEO Kirby Callam as evidence that the collaboration is working.

“The manager was talking about checks and balances and creating an environment that protects teachers,” Weingarten said. “The union representative was talking about trust and caring for kids.”

She also took the opportunity to urge Illinois legislators to increase school funding and avert layoffs and class-size increases. “Kids don’t get to decide whether they are born in a time of prosperity or in a time of great challenge,” she said.

The Chicago Teachers Union the idea for the school, and Connee Fitch-Blanks, the director of the CTU’s Quest Center, sits on the school’s board. The Talent Development High School model originated at Johns Hopkins University and is intended for schools that face serious problems with attendance, discipline, test scores and dropout rates.

Among the contract’s components:

*A work day that stretches from 8:20 a.m. to 4:05 p.m. This includes an hour a day of before-school staff professional development time, followed by four 90-minute classes.

“With a job like this, you have to understand that certain things are needed,” Argamaso said. “If the hours are something that’s an issue for a teacher, this may not be the best school for you.”

* Performance-based evaluations performed by teams that include experienced teachers. The evaluations do not include the use of student performance data, Argamaso said.

*A remediation process for under-performing teachers, who can be fired as soon as a year after the process begins.

“Even if you come into this and it might not be your profession, it’s up to the community to help recognize that, in a collaborative, fair way,” Callam said. “If we are just a school of mediocre teachers [and] pretty good teachers, CPS will close us in five years.”

*An automatic bump to the bottom of the pay scale in teachers’ first year at the school, regardless of previous experience. However, the school can dole out unlimited “signing bonuses” to first-year teachers. Teachers at all levels can also earn bonuses by assuming extra responsibilities like leadership roles or supervising after-school programs.

*Three lanes of pay for teachers, depending on whether they have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or National Board certification. There are seven steps in each lane.

* Starting at the end of a teacher’s first year, performance ratings determine their placement into the top, middle, or bottom range of steps. Then, their specific step is assigned based on their total years of experience.

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The contract will not be released until it is ratified. Negotiators still have to work out the details of the teacher evaluation scoring system, Argamaso said. He also would not comment on the specific salary ranges at the bottom and top ends of the pay scale.

But “it’s safe to say the potential to earn over the long term is greater here,” he said, noting that talented teachers can hit the top of the pay scale within seven to 10 years (although they would continue to receive cost-of-living increases and other raises).

Chicago Talent Development’s unionization is, perhaps, less of a surprise than that of other charter schools. It was launched by a partnership between the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Chicago Teachers Union, and the Service Employees International Union Local 73.

The school, located inside Tilton Elementary, opened originally as a contract school in 2009 and will become a charter school this fall. Its parent organization, Union Park High Schools, plans to eventually open three more union-partnered high schools in Chicago.

A grant from the AFT Innovation Fund helped bankroll the negotiation process. “Without the [AFT Innovation] Fund, we wouldn’t have been able to get the training we need,” Principal Jackie Lemon said.

“There were a lot of skeptics when we opened up this school. A lot of people thought we would not get this done. [But] no blood was shed. There are no broken bones,” she said.

Six other union groups (all of them outside Illinois) received grants from the fund, which supports teacher-led, union-led and collaborative school reform efforts. One of the grants was given back to the union, Weingarten said, because Broward County Public Schools officials refused to work with the union there on developing a performance pay system. The other five grants did not specifically address contract issues.