Teachers at Chicago Math and Science Academy Form Union

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Teachers at the highly regarded Chicago Math and Science Academy notified school leaders on June 23 that they have organized into a union and filed for recognition with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board to help make an already great school even better.

"Ensuring continued student and teacher success involves creating an environment in which teachers feel secure enough to raise concerns and offer ideas," says Brian Chelmecki, chair of the school's math department. "Chicago Math and Science Academy teachers need a strong voice in developing and implementing policies that are good for kids and fair to teachers."

Two-thirds of the teaching staff—well over the majority required by law—signed union authorization cards to be represented by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS), an affiliate of the AFT and the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Chicago ACTS also represents teachers at eight other charter schools in the city.

Dick Simpson, former Chicago alderman and current chairman of University of Illinois-Chicago's political science department, says this is an important step to moving the already high-achieving school to the next level. "The teachers at this school care about their students and are deeply invested in their success. When teachers and administrators team up to solve problems, students benefit," Simpson says.

Teachers at the school say some of their larger concerns are about teacher turnover. "Having a union will help us better recruit and, importantly, retain qualified and experienced teachers," says Rhonda Rae Hartwell, a middle school language arts teacher. "We are committed to working collaboratively with the school administration to ensure the future success of our students and school."

The Chicago Math and Science Academy has nearly 600 students and about 54 teachers and counselors. Once the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board certifies the union, Chicago ACTS can begin collective bargaining negotiations with school officials.

"The 103,000 members of the Illinois Federation of Teachers welcome CMSA teachers to our union," says IFT president and AFT vice president Ed Geppert Jr. "We pledge to work with them to enhance their careers as professionals and to promote the best interests of their schools and students."

June 24, 2010