NEW HAVEN, Conn. – New Haven Federation of Teachers President Dave Cicarella is learning first-hand why some time-honored teacher union policies don’t have any place in public education.
Last fall, the teachers union (NHFT) was given control of High School in the Community, a 230-student school that was identified as one of Connecticut’s worst. The unusual move was the result of the state’s 2012 education reform law.
As the union president, Cicarella was put in charge of the school and tasked with reversing its “troubling trend of sinking literacy rates, dwindling enrollment, and rising truancy and dropout rates,” reports the New Haven Independent.
“The school is technically run by a seven-person governance council, including four members of the NHFT leadership, none of whom reports to the building daily,” the news site reports. “Cicarella … has been serving as the point-person in charge of the school.”
But some of Cicarella’s proposed reforms are receiving opposition from the school’s 30 teachers, who are accustomed to running the school themselves.
“High School in the Community (HSC) has been teacher-run since its inception in 1970,” reports the New Haven Independent. “Instead of answering to a principal, teachers elect their own peers to run the school through a democratic process.”
Cicarella says that process severely limits the applicant pool and could reduce the leadership selection process to a mere popularity contest among school staff members.
The irony of this situation is too delicious to ignore. A union president gets to experience life as a school administrator who has the primary responsibility of making sure students learn. That helps him understand how the presence of the union and its many cumbersome rules often stand in the way of student learning.
Cicarella’s leadership of the school has apparently created confusion among staff about who’s empowered to determine school policies.
The New Haven Independent reports there is “nothing in writing” to delineate “which school decisions would be made by HSC leadership, which would be made the union president, and which by the governing council,” the New Haven Independent reports.
Social studies teacher Sarah Marchesi told the paper that the confusion about who’s in charge has “distracted” from the school’s larger mission.
“With all of this, there’s a lack of focus around literacy, mastery-based learning,” Marchesi said. “We should be exclusively focused on discourse around the substance of what we’re doing,” she added.
There’s a lot riding on HSC’s success.
HSC is one of a handful of schools throughout the nation that’s being run by a teachers union. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten “has been promoting HSC as she evangelizes about Hew Haven’s collaborative approach to reform,” the paper reports.
Collaboration is a popular idea these days, but it’s largely impractical and unworkable where organized labor is involved, as Cicarella is rapidly discovering.
Welcome to the real world, of public education, Mr. Union President.