Valuing All Voices in Unionized Charter Schools

Education Week, one of the most respected sources for educational news and opinions, recently spoke with Green Dot California’s CEO, Dr. Cristina de Jesus, about Green Dot’s history and experience as a fully unionized charter school.

Part of the publication’s “Charters for Choice” blog, the interview, titled “Insights from a Unionized Charter School Network,” sought to dispel some common misperceptions about unions and charter schools.

Since its launch 15 years ago, Green Dot has always considered its teachers union, the Asociación de Maestros Unidos (AMU), an integral element of its model.

A Union Supporter from the Start

“It’s too easy for organizations to revert to the teachers-versus-management status quo,” de Jesus said. “We began with a deep-rooted belief in the importance of teachers at the table—for there to be built-in collaboration for teachers and managers. Our kids are depending on us to walk forward together.”

“Green Dot is a great example of giving teachers a strong voice in school and network decisions and leveraging them to create great results for students,” explains Halley Potter, the co-author, with Richard D. Kahlenberg, of A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education, which includes a profile of Green Dot Public Schools.

As Potter and Kahlenberg point out, AMU and Green Dot have developed innovative ways to maintain clear avenues for individual teachers to participate in organizational decision-making while introducing the efficiencies necessary to run multiple campuses.

True to the Original Vision

This spirit of cooperation and inclusiveness, which engages teachers and respects them as high-valued stakeholders, reflects Green Dot’s alignment with the original charter school vision set forth 25 years ago by union leader and American ed-reform advocate Albert Shanker. At the time, Shanker’s vision was broadly supported by labor unions.

Today, whereas 60% of public school districts have an agreement with a union, just 12% of charter schools are unionized.

In her introduction to the Ed Week interview, writer Arianna Prothero points out how, despite a national decline in the number of charter schools with unionized staffs, Green Dot is successfully expanding its vision for charters into new states; the inclusion of a teachers union may be part of its appeal.

“Our union attracts teachers. I’ve spoken to those who’ve come from other [nonunionized] charter schools about their experiences at Green Dot, and it’s like night and day for them,” said Salina Joiner, AMU president.

De Jesus and Joiner agree that Green Dot’s collaborative model works by placing students at the forefront of everything it does. In the interview, de Jesus framed public education as “a marathon, not a race,” reiterating Green Dot’s desire to create lasting, sustainable change in its schools and surrounding communities. The interview, which appeared online on September 17, 2014, highlights Green Dot’s leadership as an operator of 22 successful charter schools.


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