Weingarten Highlights Unionized Charter School in Chicago

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During a visit on May 11, AFT president Randi Weingarten applauded the work of teachers and school leaders at the union-partnered charter school, Chicago Talent Development High School, for exemplifying how a strong labor-management partnership can empower adults to help students realize their full potential.

Weingarten's visit to Chicago was part of the AFT's Fight for America's Future tour to raise awareness about the devastating effect that draconian budget cuts, such as those being considered in Illinois and other states across the country, will have on educational services.

"The breakthrough work being done at Chicago Talent Development High School—where teachers and school leaders work collaboratively to create innovative ways to improve teaching and learning—is exactly why we cannot afford to slash school budgets and lay off teachers. We risk wiping out the progress we are making," Weingarten says.

The school's research-based design includes small classes with high expectations and engaging instruction; a challenging curriculum and extra instructional support for students; the use of data to inform improvements; an empowered faculty structure; and a team of coaches to provide teachers with job-embedded professional development.

Last fall, the Illinois Federation of Teachers received one of the first grants from the AFT's Innovation Fund, to design and implement a progressive contract-negotiating model for charter school educators at Union Park High Schools based on collaboration and community partnerships. Chicago Talent Development High School is the first of a proposed network of four union-partnered charter schools managed by Union Park High Schools Inc. that will use the successful Johns Hopkins University's Talent Development High School reform program.

This contract-negotiating model will be available to be adapted by unionized charter schools and other public schools throughout the country. The contract will align with the school's educational plan, including a career-track compensation system, a rigorous evaluation process, and a school day and school year designed to support teachers and students.

"Talent Development High School has truly broken the mold and shown that charter schools and unions can collaborate from the outset to form a respectful and motivating learning environment that is good for students, teachers, school leaders and the community," says Illinois Federation of Teachers president and AFT vice president Ed Geppert Jr.

Says Eli Argamaso, an English language arts teacher at the school and one of the lead negotiators, "What really attracted me to this high school was the idea of starting from scratch and forming a school as one cohesive unit—teachers and administration—working together to serve one common goal: getting each of these children to college. The task seemed daunting, intimidating and very exciting. It appears that we are well on our way toward accomplishing our goal."

Kirby Callam, the school's CEO, says, "With the belief that the teacher has the greatest impact on student achievement, we have worked together to formalize a professional environment where all faculty are respected, supported, involved and responsible for the success of each child and the school as a whole."

Weingarten also has visited Syracuse, N.Y; Albuquerque, N.M.; Sacramento, Calif.; and San Francisco as part the AFT's Fight for America's Future campaign. Future campaign stops will include Minneapolis and Kansas City, Mo. She also recently visited Providence, R.I. to highlight their labor-management partnership to turnaround low-performing schools.

May 11, 2010