Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Boston Teachers' Union Opens School

Expand Messages
  • Charles Rachlis
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 12, 2009
    • 0 Attachment

      Union hopes to show and tell-
      In a first, Boston teachers' unit opens own pilot school  

      By James Vaznis, Globe Staff

      September 10, 2009


      Like a Hollywood studio promoting what it hopes will be
      a blockbuster hit, the Boston Teachers Union has
      plastered large signs at subway stops and along the
      sides of buses trumpeting today's opening of its own
      elementary school.

      In the ads, a silver-haired 28-year veteran of the
      city's school system smiles widely in front of a
      brightly colored playground set and exclaims that at
      Boston Teachers Union School in Jamaica Plain, "We are
      working to create the best school for students and
      teachers to share the gift of education.''

      The media blitz, unusual for a new district school,
      underscores the high stakes for the oft-criticized union
      as it sets out to prove it can foster, not impede,
      innovation and educational achievement.

      To execute this experiment - the first of its kind in
      the state - leaders have made a seemingly unlikely
      choice, adopting a type of school that the union has
      often been ac cused of thwarting in the past. Their
      school will be one of the city's 22 semiautonomous pilot
      schools, which operate under fewer union contract
      provisions than other district schools.

      The union has drawn the ire of some business leaders and
      politicians by voting against proposals to transform
      other schools into pilots, because of concerns about
      lengthened workdays and relaxed rules for hiring and
      dismissing teachers. In June, Mayor Thomas M. Menino
      grew so frustrated with the union that he reversed his
      longstanding opposition to charter schools, which have
      no unions at all and have been fiercely criticized by

      Union officials have repeatedly denied obstructing pilot
      school growth, arguing that they see merits in the
      concept but that members have disagreed with the details
      of certain proposals.

      They say that at their pilot school, teachers will have
      an opportunity to showcase what they can do when their
      voices are heard. Pilot schools can ignore
      district-imposed programs, which teachers often deride
      as misguided, one-size-fits-all approaches to boost test
      scores that may not actually help many students master
      the necessary material.

      "We want to bring back some of the joy of teaching,''
      said Richard Stutman, the teachers union president. "You
      want people to reach their own professional potential by
      allowing them to do things differently.''

      Some at the Boston Teachers Union School call it a
      "liberation project.''

      The school will have no principal. Instead, two longtime
      district teachers - Berta Rosa Berriz, who's featured in
      the subway ads, and Betsy Drinan - are overseeing the
      school as co-teacher leaders. They see their job, they
      say, as helping teachers to teach while also spending
      time in the classroom themselves. The school is
      partnering with Simmons College.

      "The prime relationship in a school is between a teacher
      and a child,'' Drinan said. "That's the moment that
      needs to be protected and enhanced.''

      The teachers union won the right to open the school when
      it negotiated a contract with the city four years ago,
      as part of a deal that allowed the city to open seven
      pilot schools. Since then, however, teachers have
      rejected several proposals to convert their schools into
      pilots, exercising a right given to them under the
      contract but upsetting Menino and other city leaders.

      After walking through several classrooms yesterday,
      Menino said he was impressed, noting the quality of the
      teaching staff.

      "It will give the union an opportunity to show what
      reforms they may want in the system,'' Menino said.

      The mayor, however, will continue seeking legislative
      approval to convert underperforming schools into
      union-free charters, which would be under the
      jurisdiction of the School Committee.

      The union school will deviate only slightly from the
      teacher contract. The school day will be 30 minutes
      longer than at most district schools, and teachers will
      attend a weekly two-hour staff meeting - all of which
      will entitle the educators to extra pay.

      Pilot schools traditionally can hire teachers from
      outside the district, but the union school sought only
      internal candidates. Most of its 12 teachers have taught
      in the district for less than a decade and most are in
      their 30s.

      The school is starting off small, with 150 students, who
      are enrolled in kindergarten, and the first and second
      grades, as well as in Grade 6, which kicks off the
      middle school program. The school will eventually top
      off at Grade 8.

      Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation
      of Teachers, who toured the school yesterday, said the
      union is taking a "big risk,'' but she applauded its
      entrepreneurial spirit. Boston, she said, is the second
      union, behind New York City, to open a school that she
      knows of.

      "Things go wrong in a school all the time,'' Weingarten
      said. "Naysayers will be rooting for it to fail, and
      they will already have the press releases written if a
      school like this can't succeed.''

      In Boston, the Pioneer Institute, a strong charter
      proponent and a teachers union critic, said the
      union-run school could be successful because decisions
      would be made by the school's staff rather than by a
      district administrator.

      "The schools have a better sense of what a child's
      academic needs are,'' said Jamie Gass, director of the
      research institute's Center for School Reform. He added,
      however, that the union school will need to show MCAS
      success before the experiment is replicated elsewhere.

      By early this week, most of the classrooms were nearly
      set for the first day of school today.

      In a first-grade classroom, a message welcoming pupils
      was already written on a large pad of lined paper that
      rested on an easel. The names of each pupil hung on a
      bulletin board in front of the classroom along with a
      complete schedule of activities that included story
      time, math, and music.

      Upstairs, in a sixth-grade classroom, teacher Joy De
      Palm had arranged her desks in a semicircle to encourage
      lively discussions about literature and history. She
      said she liked being part of creating a school.

      "I've never been asked my opinion before,'' said De
      Palm, who taught in New York City for 11 years before
      coming to Boston a few years ago. "I like when we don't
      agree on something we can have a spirited debate, and
      there are no consequences for disagreeing.''

      PortsideLabor aims to provide material of interest to
      people on the left that will help them to interpret the
      world and to change it.

      To submit material to PortsideLabor: Send an email
      containing the material to labor@....

      To subscribe to PortsideLabor: Send an email to
      support@... with the subject 'portsidelabor

      To unsubscribe from PortsideLabor: Send an email to
      support@... with the subject 'portsidelabor

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.