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UFT, Green Dot reach tentative contract agreement for Bronx charter

nyt20090629_4a.jpgStudents (in uniforms) with members of the contract negotiating committee: (standing, across back, from left) Miguel Suarez, Chapter Leader Lauren Inzelbuch and Frances Sora. nyt20090629_4b.jpgUFT President Randi Weingarten shakes on the deal with Green Dot New York Charter School Chairman Jeffrey T. Leeds and Green Dot founder and Chairman Steve Barr.

“If rebels are going to challenge the status quo, they need protection and we shouldn’t be afraid to protect them.”
— Steve Barr, founder and chairman of Green Dot Public Schools

Steve Barr had traveled across three time zones to be in the Bronx on June 23 with teachers, administrators, students and UFT officials to sign a collective-bargaining agreement delineating the rights of staffers at a successful charter school that opened last September.

He was recounting how he had just come from a conference in Washington, D.C., where one of the topics was how to protect rebels in the school system who wanted to make major educational changes. He labeled himself one of those rebels.

If those panelists wanted to see the real deal instead of a position paper, they would have done well to have hopped a plane with Barr and observed what UFT teachers are doing with their students every day in the Green Dot New York Charter School, a school that works.

The sentiments of the students told the story. After an initial bout of shyness and with a little coaxing, they heaped praise on their teachers, telling stories about how they stay after school to help them with math, or come in early to tutor them.

An observer could tell by their wide, warm smiles that these were not rehearsed answers for the benefit of a newspaper.

“You know they really care about you,” said one student. When asked how she knew, the student said, “Because they are always telling us and showing us.”

The feelings of the teachers are mirror images of how their students feel about them.

“This is about them,” said Chapter Leader Lauren Inzelbuch, pointing to students sitting behind the assembled officials. “This year has been a really great journey. I think I speak on behalf of all the teachers [when we say] how grateful we are for this opportunity.”

Inzelbuch said she and her colleagues have been committed to moving students forward since before they set foot in a Green Dot School. She praised the students in the room, “all of whom passed the Regents today.”

She thanked her colleagues and the principal, Ashish Kapadia, calling him the “partner” of teachers. “He has really made this year successful in our classrooms,” Inzelbuch said.

For his part, Kapadia credited the school’s success to the students and the “great professionals who dedicate countless hours to their success. They are an amazing staff and they are the real stories of this school.”

Green Dot currently operates 18 charter schools in Los Angeles. The New York City school, which is being done in partnership with the UFT, is the first collaboration of its kind in the nation: a prominent, nonprofit charter school moving across the country to work in tandem with a teachers’ union.

As she picked up a Green Dot pen, UFT President Randi Weingarten said, “I love signing this contract. This agreement is based on a very basic premise: Teacher professionalism is the surest path to sustained student achievement.”

At its core, she said, “This contract is about shared expectations and shared responsibility. Educators are being asked to take a leading role in the success of their school, and they’re being provided with the professional support needed to help them make that success possible.”

The agreement is retroactive, running from Aug. 25, 2008, through Aug. 31, 2011.

Weingarten said that “we do things bottom-up, not top-down. Charter schools should be incubators both for instruction and for good labor relations.”

Teachers will not have to earn tenure. Instead, Green Dot teachers have strong due process rights the moment they start working.

From their first day on the job, they have a just cause standard of employment that guarantees fair treatment and a grievance system that ends in binding arbitration.

Weingarten said schools that work are the ones that value educators who are not just cogs in the wheel. Teachers don’t want to be demonized or scapegoated, she said, adding that Green Dot is an example of a school that values teachers.

Jeffrey T. Leeds, the Green Dot New York Charter School chairman, summed up the day with powerful words of praise for the teachers.

“It’s been a great year because of the extraordinary jobs the teachers did and it is proven by the great results,” said Leeds, who was also happy to share the news that he is lending his apartment for a two-day staff retreat (his only worry being that he orders enough food). “It’s not as easy as it sounds to make a school successful. And the philosophy here is never usagainst them.”against them.”

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