Yesterday the Kojo Nnambi show on WAMU 88.5 featured Cesar Chavez Public Charter School Prep Campus science teacher Christian Herr discussing the decision by his facility to unionize. I had the opportunity to call in to the program.
Mr. Herr did an admirable job relating his concerns for the students and parents at the middle school that led the staff to bring in the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. He described massive teacher turnover, indicating that 11 of 36 instructors, or 31 percent, have left in just the last term. In the five years that he has been with the charter they have had four chief executive officers, four principals and four assistant principals. Mr. Herr explained that good teachers moved on not to change careers or relocate but to take other lateral positions in Washington, D.C. He opined that it is impossible for teachers, scholars, and parents to get their feet on solid ground when they are essentially walking into a new school every year. His effort to bring a union started when employees noticed a lack of transparency around the reasons certain policies and procedures were implemented.
In other words, Mr. Herr is describing many of the conditions that existed at Paul PCS when teachers at that institution were considering joining the same union. As I’ve pointed out previously, when staff feel unappreciated and not listened to, and there is a perceived lack of transparency by superiors, the environment becomes ripe for union activity.
The charter school movement in D.C. has matured and with our growing knowledge of how to best teach under-served children must also come the strengthening of our skills around management. Employee satisfaction and engagement have to rise to the top of our priority list.
Unfortunately for Mr. Herr, he will find that the introduction of a union will make matters worse not better. The presence of a third party sandwiched between staff and administrators is never a good idea, especially at such a small place. It is especially sad that this group of educators has decided to partner with the AFT whose president recently used racially insensitive language to characterize people who support school choice. But perhaps others can learn from the experience at Cesar Chavez so that this situation will not be repeated in the future.