Boston Teachers' Union Opens School
- BOSTON TEACHER SHOW THE WAY DOWN WITH OVER BLOATED ADMINISTRATORS! FOR WORKERS CONTROL OF EDUCATION!
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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.''
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