City Desk

Charter School Pledges To ‘Not Coerce’ Unionizing Teachers

A former history teacher at the Cesar Chavez charter high school on Capitol Hill has accepted a $15,000 settlement to end his dispute with the school's administration, which he claims fired him for trying to start a union.

David Krakow, 28, tells City Desk that, under the terms of the deal, the charter school has further agreed to tack up a rather striking notice, which reads in part:

"FEDERAL LAW GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO:

Form, join or assist a union;
Choose representatives to bargain with us on your behalf;
Act together with other employees for your benefit and protection;
Choose not to engage in any of these protected activities.

In recognition of our employees’ rights:

WE WILL NOT coerce you by telling you that you can not engage in protected concerted activities.

WE WILL NOT
tell you that you are not a good fit, because you engage in protected concerted activities.

WE WILL NOT tell you that the school will close if you continue your union activities and/or protected concerted activities.

Terri Smyth-Riding, director of  human resources for Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools For Public Policy, which operates the school, confirmed the amount of the settlement. However, she denied that Krakow was fired for his unionizing efforts. To the contrary, she explains, "We did not want to incur any further legal expense."

The dispute started in February 2009, when Krakow says he and some other teachers began meeting at coffee shops to discuss  problems at the high school, located at 709 12th Street SE. According to Krakow, the teachers gabbed about lots of work-related issues, but one emerged as a primary concern: Chavez was bleeding talent.

Though the D.C. Charter School Board doesn't keep data on teacher retention for individual schools, a spokesperson for the board noted that in 2008  and 2009, Chavez charter schools, as a whole,  managed to retain only 53 percent of its faculty.

At the Capitol Hill campus, Krakow says, it felt like about a third of the faculty disappeared each year.

The teachers' group  figured the problem was that faculty members weren't getting their needs met by the administration. So they decided to try to change that.

The group made it a point to not call itself a union, Krakow says. "People as an entire faculty couldn't get behind a traditional union," he explains. Nonetheless, in March 2009, the group began acting like one. It drafted a letter to school leaders asking for a revamp of teacher contracts. Among their requests:

"Having fewer than twenty students per class and eighty students total in order to make teachers much more effective and students more successful...

"Limited class size and adequate prep time...

"Limiting the number of teacher work days before the school year...

"Publishing a pay scale..."

The letter also seemingly attempted to set up labor negotiations:

"We plan to elect representatives shortly and we would like to schedule a meeting with the representatives and you for the week after spring break to begin this collaboration."

Though the correspondence was signed by members of the Capitol Hill faculty, Krakow says it was clear that he was spearheading the effort. Not long after the letter, the school informed him that his contract wouldn't be renewed.

Smyth-Riding says Krakow was let go for "legitimate business reasons," adding, "It had a lot to do with our finances." She described Krakow as a good employee, but that the school couldn't afford his position anymore.

But Krakow says he got a different answer during a meeting with Garrett Phelan, the school's principal at the time. "You're not a good fit for the school," he recalled the ex-administrator as saying.

That baffled the employee, as he'd gotten positive work evaluations and had recently been promoted to the position of  faculty mentor, a gig that essentially involved helping other teachers up their skills, he says.

Things became a lot clearer when he met with Sean Hanover, then the school's human resources director, Krakow says. "He told me the school was fundamentally opposed to unions." Hanover also told him that if Chavez teachers were to ever form a union, the school would shut down in retaliation, he says.

Krakow decided not to take the ousting lying down. In March, he filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which often mediates these types of disputes.

Smyth-Riding says that while the school has never had a union, employees are welcomed to form one. She dismissed Krakow's claim that Chavez is anti-union as "groundless." She says Chavez has never had union for a very simple reason: its teachers are too content. "Our employees feel like they have an HR department where they can come down and voice their concerns," she says.

During its own independent investigation of Krakow's complaint, however, the NLRB "found reasonable cause to believe that some of the allegations of the charge were meritorious," says Wayne Gold, the board's regional director. The agency issued a complaint accusing Phaelen, Hanover, and the school's vice-principal, Arturo Martinez, of union busting.

According to the NLRB complaint, investigators believe Phealan coerced teachers by telling them they couldn't engage in "protected concerted activity" and had also fired employees for engaging in similar activities.  Investigators also backed up the allegation that Hanover had "threatened and coerced employees with school closure."

Under NLRB guidelines, Krakow would have been eligible for an award of up to $5,000 in lost wages, as a result of the investigation's findings. However, the two sides agreed to settle for triple that amount prior to a scheduled April 7 hearing with NLRB.

Smyth-Riding insists that the settlement was not an acknowledgement of any wrongdoing on the school's part. "Multiple people who engaged in the same activities still work at Chavez," she says.

But Krakow, who has since found a new job at a private school in Bethesda, argues that point is irrelevant. "They only have to fire enough people to make everyone else afraid," he says. "Often firing one person is enough."

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Comments

  1. #1

    Ok, maybe I'm late to the game, but why aren't the administrators' heads blowing up for cracking down on unions at the Cesar Chavez Charter School?!

    Cesar Chavez: I am Cesar Chavez
    Homer: Then why do you look like Cesar Romero?
    Cesar Chavez: Because you do not know what Cesar Chavez looks like.

  2. #2

    Reid, you are completely right. It is crazy that there would be anti-union people at cesar chavez.

  3. #3

    Mr. Krakow's situation harkens back to an earlier era when union members were constantly in a state of fear of losing their jobs if they spoke out. Whether one works in a shirtwaist factory, a farm, or a charter school,the right to choose to organize collectively or not is an essential component of a democracy.

  4. #4

    The school's behavior is truly disgusting. Actions speak far louder than words - regardless of the school's conflicting excuses, firing a good teacher is inexcusable, especially when good teachers are in such short supply. The NLRB's involvement, coupled with the seeming backing of the remainder of the faculty suggests that this incident is just the tip of the iceberg plaguing Cesar Chavez.

  5. #5

    Damn right! Thanks for shedding light on this. It's incredible that here in DC such we continue to have to fight for the labor rights the law allows.

  6. #6

    Krakow's fight is one I admire greatly. I do wonder if there have been any improvements for the teachers still at Chavez in light of the case.

  7. #7

    I have got to second the first responder. This is truly ironic. And OF COURSE it's a history teacher that must save the day!

  8. #8

    Why is it that in our society, teachers are always blamed if they can't fix the problems that all of us neglect even trying to fix. As a psychiatrist, I know that often the line between life success and failure often is determined if my patient was able to form a stable, supportive bond with an interested teacher. I applaud Krakow for taking a stand to make sure DC schools reflect the needs of their students and create a humane environment where pupils and staff can excel. Thank you, Krakow!

  9. #9

    So, were the demands of the teachers met?

  10. #10

    How terrific that the settlement includes that sign. Krakow must be one argumentative fellow.

  11. #11

    As an alumnus of the school and a close friend of many former teachers, I commend Krakow for his fight and for upholding the very principles Cesar Chavez fought for. I witnessed a litany of acts that would cause Chavez to roll in his grave. From the institution of uniforms and an unfair expulsion appeal process to the treatment of the very teachers I loved. The greatest and most endearing parts of the Chavez community were and are being thrown under the bus while administrators like Isrema Salcido, Garret Phelan, and members of the so-called "disciplinary staff" were and are being commended for their noble efforts. The fact is, the greatest part of Chavez are the teachers.

  12. #12

    Fewer than two weeks after the holiday named in his honor, and some 50 years later, Cesar Chavez's fight continues. Congratulations, Mr. Krakow.

  13. #13

    While I love teaching at Chavez and think it is a great school in many, many ways, I can confirm that the executive staff's treatment of staff & teachers is definitely NOT one of those many ways! Despite being named after "Cesar Chavez", the school can be a somewhat authoritarian at times. As one of the teachers participating in these discussions, I can confirm David's account. They clearly chose to get rid him because of his leadership role in the events. They also asked at least one other "leader" to curb their activities. We won none of our demands, and this year we were too scared (not too "content"!) to pursue them further. It is a shame, because each year we continue to lose fantastic teachers. ...I have seen a slight improvement this year with the arrival of some new senior staff (NOT including Smyth Ryding!!!!); I hope the negative publicity from this incident will spur them into adopting more democratic practices that will do nothing but further improve the school.

  14. #14

    A $5,000 fine for union busting hardly seems like a deterrent. The only real way to stop this type of activity is to pass some labor laws with some teeth.

  15. Rebeka Fergusson-Lutz
    #15

    As a former Chavez-Capitol Hill teacher, I can say with certainty that the irony of working in an anti-union environment named after Cesar Chavez was not lost on anyone.

    What initially drew me to Chavez was its spirit of activism and the allure of being able to empower students to make change in the community. As time went on, though, I began to see that this was more of a marketing ploy than anything else. The rhetoric about making change was useful for selling the school to donors, but the day-to-day realities for (many? most?) Chavez teachers were anything but inspirational.

    The staff of Chavez-Capitol Hill was (at least in my era) the smartest, funniest, most energetic, most compassionate, and most talented group of people with whom I have ever worked. It's tragic that the administration of the school could not trust those teachers to make good decisions for themselves, the Chavez system, and -- most importantly -- the students.

  16. #16

    Unbelievable.

    How can a public policy charter school practice anti-civic and anti-democratic actions? What sort of example does this set for the future cesar chavez' this school should create?

    What a mixed win for Krakow - wish he could turn it into a lesson for the students . . .

  17. Another Chavez Teacher
    #17

    David Krakow was an exemplary Chavez teacher -- all of my students had him in 9th grade and loved him and learned from him.

    As another former Chavez teacher, I want to affirm the truth of David's claims (and it seems Chavez has finally acknowledged his claims, too), and reiterate something David has always been focused on -- losing huge numbers of dedicated, talented teachers each year is bad for teachers, sure, but it's absolutely devastating for students.

    Students deserve to know their teachers well and trust that they will see them year after year. Teacher turnover in urban schools is widely understood to be a big contributor to the black-hispanic-white "achievement gap," so why would a school in its right mind let a teacher like David get away?

    To scare the other teachers into quieting down?

  18. #18

    The teachers seem to be making reasonable demand such as limiting class sizes so these kids can have more interactions with their teachers, or a published payscale so all teacher knew if they were getting a fair paycheck. If DCPS has one, so should this public school. Further, if DCPS has a union that can help support its teachers, so should Chavez.

    In my life, I have met WAY more employees who were scared to stand for a union than were "too content". If these people are so content, why does Ms. Smyth-Riding admit "Multiple people who engaged in the same activities still work at Chavez," To me, it sounds like these workers are scared of their administration.

    “The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.” - Cesar Chavez

  19. #19

    I'd just like to state the obvious: it takes guts to do the right thing when you know it might cost you your job, and that's exactly what David did. Having worked at a small charter school that also bled talent, I can relate, and I hope CC gets the wake up call. Way to go, man.

  20. #20

    Great work, and good reporting. I feel hopeful today that change can be made -- esp in charter schools to show that union-busting is a violation of our basic rights.

  21. #21

    Great article. Amazing how the HR people keep with the "deny, deny, deny" message, even when everything points to a serious violation. Why not apologize and move forward? Have they learned anything?

  22. #22

    Congratulations to David and the other teachers at Cesar Chavez for upholding Chavez's legacy of fighting for workers rights. Teachers are the key to a good education, and especially in Washington DC, school administrators (all the way up to Rhee and Fenty) need to keep being reminded that teachers will fight for their own rights and for the rights of their students to a quality education. And they need to hear that the rest of the city is behind them in their fight. Si se puede!!

  23. #23

    If the teachers really were content, CC would do better than its abysmal 53% retention rate.

  24. Friend of the teachers
    #24

    Glad to see that, even though the punishment wasn't nearly severe enough, this issue is getting some attention. Shame on CC, and good on you, David, for standing up for what's right and fair.

  25. #25

    I would like to second JPM's comment. I think its fantastic that Chavez has to pot that sign at the school - what a surprising part of the settlement.

  26. #26

    The administration at Chavez is schizophrenic. They do not make decisions with their students best interest in mind, and they DO NOT support their teaching staff. I assure you, to say the staff is "too content" to unionize is absurd. Also, the founder/CEO has a serious celebrity-complex and fancies herself some sort of diva. If her school is so great, why does she send all of her kids to National Cathedral? Plain and simple - she has no respect for the brilliant teachers at Cesar Chavez Capitol Hill who make education possible.

  27. Former Chavez Teacher
    #27

    Can only echo what everyone else has posted-- I know David to be an exemplary teacher, know the school's administration to be solidly anti-union, and felt deeply the tragedy of being ordered, year after year, to "quit complaining and pick my trays of grapes." Perhaps the biggest villain here is the No Child Left Behind Act, which, by putting school administrators first in line to be fired if standardized test scores don't rise each year, pits them against teachers (and essentially turns all public schools into standardized test-prep academies rather than centers of life-long learning.) In any case, teacher contentment was, at least in my time at the school, rare.

  28. safeguarding rights
    #28

    Would that more people follow David's example and stand up for their rights to form labor organizations.

  29. #29

    Umm ... Wow.
    I hope this is an April Fools joke.
    The idea of cracking down on union organizing at a school named after Cesar Chavez is one of the most twisted or stupidest things I’ve ever heard ... Twisted if they know anything about their namesake, just plain stupid if they do not.

    Next week I’ll be working with church leaders to crack down on prayer.

  30. #30

    Great article. I think the penalty should have been stiffer. Krakow makes a great argument about how you only have to fire one person to intimidate.

  31. #31

    Go David. I learned a lot from reading this article. As an educator, I'll keep this piece in mind as our budgets shrink and workloads skyrocket.

  32. #32

    Thanks to the City Paper for publishing this article. It's crucial that stories like this are shared and heard both by employees in similar situations and by the powers-that-be that think they'll never get caught for such blatant actions- like firing someone.

  33. #33

    Congrats David - you are one of the hardest-working and most dedicated teachers I have ever met. The Bethesda school is lucky to have you!

  34. #34

    It should come as no surprise that a charter school is anti-union. From the beginning, one of the driving forces behind the charter school movement was anti-unionism and the desire to eliminate teachers' unions.

    As the other comments have noted, what makes this story so compelling is the name of the school. Cesar Chavez was one of the great labor leaders of the 20th century. If the school is going to violate the law and deny basic rights to its teachers, at least it should have the decency to respect and honor Cesar Chavez' name and change the school's name to something more appropriate. How about Pinkerton High or Walmart High?

  35. #35

    What an important story to tell. Good for David and other Chavez teachers for following the spirit of Cesar Chavez and sticking up for themselves and their students. I hope the fight continues and the school administration doesn't try to crush solidarity that would make the school a better place to learn.

  36. #36

    As a member of a teacher's union, I have a hard time conceiving of a school district that doesn't have one. I understand all of the ambivalence about starting, joining, allowing unions into the schools. However, people sometimes forget that most of the members actually live in the communities they serve and have a vested interest in keeping things reasonable. Despite the fees, I'm glad that there's someone watching my back, especially during these economic precarious times.

  37. #37

    Kudos to Krakow for getting at the very heart of what collective bargaining is all about. It's not about "the union"; it's about workers coming together with a common purpose.

  38. #38

    Thanks David - seeing the bigger picture and working to create the world we want to live in is never easy, but always important.

  39. #39

    Thank you to David for standing up and pushing this issue, and to the City Paper for publicizing it. This is a story that should be shared widely.

  40. #40

    This is an amazing story and so glad it was reported. CC's agreement to post the notice as part of settlement (which was an inspired idea from Krakow!) is an even bigger victory then the awarded money. It is proof that Krakow made an impact within the school, and will continue to do so.

  41. #41

    Thanks for posting this story. David Krakow's story (unfair labor practices) is common, but this outcome is unusual and the judgment is refreshing. And an inspiration to others - it needs to be heard!

  42. #42

    A small, but fulfilling, victory for good teachers everywhere.

  43. #43

    Why did the management take David's concerns so wrongly as to engage in "union busting?" Surely, this was an over-reaction by a self-conscious group of leaders. If I were in their shoes, I would work with teachers to solve a common problem of retaining good teachers and so forth. What's the big deal...why the draconion measures without any real dialogue? Is this a common teacher-administrative relationship? Bad leadership is difficult to overcome and is hurting our schools.

  44. #44

    A good friend of mine worked at Cesar Chavez 6 or 7 years ago and was fired for the same reason. She was attempting to organize the teachers around problems in the school and her story reads almost the same way as David Krakow's. In her case there was a blunder where an email meant for a school administrator about her was accidentally sent TO her. It proved that the reasons they gave for firing her weren't true. She tried to sue if I remember correctly, but I don't recall what came of that.

    Shame on you, Cesar Chavez. And three cheers for David Krakow and the other teachers brave enough to take on a problematic administration for the good of the students!

  45. #45

    The war between teachers' unions and supposed reformers needs to end. I guess the admins were thinking all unions are bad unions. At Cesar Chavez. LOL.

  46. #46

    It takes guts to keep pushing for reform when you risk your job, and it also takes guts to sue your employer for taking action against you. Many of us second guess ourselves and don't take that second step. I hope David's courage and perseverance will encourage more teachers to see their role in a larger context and act upon it.

    And on another note, I hope all the education policy wonks who are always spouting about "getting rid of bad teachers" take note of this case. Who exactly will be the ones that are let go?

  47. #47

    How bitterly ironic that a school that wears the Chavez name would be so retrograde in its practices.
    Krakow's constitutional and civil liberties were disregarded. As importantly, the emerging 'group' he was a part of shared clearly laudable goals which included: "reduced class size, and adequate prep time". The run around Krakow received, coupled with clear messages from HR and school leadership, are rotten illustrations of just how dysfunctional Chavez has become. Is there any voice of reason within the Chavez administrative mix that prioritizes the needs of its students and teachers?

  48. #48

    I worked with David Krakow for three years as a colleage and teacher-leader, and I can only echo what others have said in their comments about his integrity and committment to his students. When the Chavez administration made the foolish choice to "let him go," everyone, most of all the students, lost out. It's really important that hr did not let the matter drop, and that we as readers and concerned educator don't let this story go unheard: there is too much at stake when it comes to the labor relations challenges that so many if the coutry's promising charter school are facing.

  49. #49

    The saddest part of all of this is that the students of Cesar Chavez Charter High School lost an excellent teacher and role model, one who truly believed in their potential and knew how to help them achieve. It is also very sad that David's fellow teachers lost a colleague of his caliber. Hopefully this settlement will renew the teachers' cause.

    Shame on the administration for silencing those who seek to make the school a better educational experience for the students and teachers. If you are not for higher quality education for kids and supporting teachers who provide it, you shouldn't be in education. And if you aren't interested in upholding the unionizing rights of your teachers, then you definitely shouldn't be at a school named for César Chávez.

  50. #50

    Great story. This should be in the print edition!

  51. Yet Another Chavez Teacher
    #51

    I teach at another Chavez campus, but we are going through the same situation here. Teachers feel mistreated, overworked, and unappreciated, not content. When I (and others) have come to Smyth-Riding with a problem, she does little to try and solve it. Firing David worked. There are teachers here who would like to start a union but don't want to risk their jobs.

  52. #52

    Glad this ended somewhat well, but echo the sentiments of other commenters--the irony of this whole thing is just epic.

  53. #53

    Good for David for pursuing this fight, and thanks to the City Paper for bringing some attention to it. We need to be encouraging more young, energetic teachers to work at places Cesar Chavez, not firing them for trying to improve their schools. I'm glad the school is at least acknowledging some of the claims, and hopefully changing its ways.

  54. #54

    That's way F'd up. How could this happen in DC of all places where unions should be receiving of the respect they deserve.

  55. #55

    A well told story. It is worth emphasizing that in most instances the National Labor Relations Board's decision to issue a charge is the ultimate finding. No doubt Chavez settled because it knew it would lose.
    It is also worth putting this story in a larger context. Chavez holds itself out as a premier and progressive charter school, and it attracts, at least for a few years, many bright and talented teachers. If Chavez engages in union busting, it raises questions about the the "choices" being offered as alternatives to traditional public schools, both in DC and across the country.

  56. #56

    As a student at Cesar Chavez PCHS for "PUBLIC POLICY" it confounds me how hypocritical the administration is towards the goals they drown us in. Commencing in our freshman year we are tossed into public policy situations. We attempt to alleviate the cultural, environment, and economic problems that face our community yet we do not address the problems that are right under our noses.

    It should be made absolutely clear that Mr. Krakow was not only a qualified teacher but a teacher that was highly appreciated by the student population, something that is hard to come by in our school. The administration use of the "it's only business" excuse is a spit in the face for all of us. If it truly was a budgetary issue, why punish one, newly promoted teacher?

    As a Senior I can recount numerous times when teachers have voiced their concerns about simple classroom issues like overpopulation. It is clear that the concerns of a single teacher are not being heard if I have to spend Pre-Calculus in a class of 20+ people.

    This is simply another event that shows that the Chavez Administration does not know how to handle or may not even care how it handles, issues that involve the two parties which allow them to even exist. These two parties are, of course, teachers and students. As evidenced in the mishandling of a student situation (see,http://columbia.news21.com/?p=679)and now with the mishandling of the situation with Mr. Krakow it is clear to me that our administration must not care much for the quality of those it "governs" over. I say shame to our administration for stepping on the ideals of our schools namesake.

    To Ms. Irasema Salcido, it is your duty as founder of the school, not only to hear the concerns of our teachers but to ENCOURAGE that they form a union. If not, then you should never speak to the student population about the life of Cesar Chavez again and I will go as far as to encourage that the name of this school be changed to something more befitting an administration opposed to unionizing.

    Maybe Alexander M. Palmer Public Charter High School For Public Policy?

    --Marco, Senior.

  57. #57

    I'm very impressed with Mr. Krakow's courage to pursue this matter and bring it to light. It shows that the school administrators are putting themselves first and not the students or its teachers.

    Good on you David!

  58. #58

    Congratulations to David for taking on this school. It sets a great example for his former students about the importance of organizing, workers rights, and perseverance.

  59. #59

    A fear of unions usually means a fear of losing power that you probably shouldn't have. Good work Dave.

  60. #60

    Good for David and good for the students and teachers at Chavez. Having the small sign posted is a BIG step. Well done sir, well done.

  61. #61

    Mr. Krakow's students are lucky to have him as a teacher. Hopefully he will leave a lasting legacy for those Chavez students who witnessed an adult standing up for his/her rights in a responsible, and effective, maanner. Kudos to you!!!

  62. #62

    Following many years of committing himself to pursuing social justice, David Krakow has once again demonstrated his willingness to take the path of MOST resistance in order to protect people's rights and expose injustice. David not only cares deeply about his colleagues' well-being but, through this action, has refused to compromise the education of these kids--he wants the best for them--experienced, top-notch, professionally challenged and rewarded educators who feel free to engage in their First Amendment rights. David took a huge personal risk here for the benefit of community and he should be applauded. I am very very proud to know him and hope his story and this piece are publicized widely so that he can be held up as an example to the rest of us and our children.

  63. #63

    Excellent article. The truth of the situation comes through. Congratulations to Krakow. They tried to send a message by firing one teacher to scare the rest. The opposite happened: one teacher's principled resistance protects all the others.

  64. #64

    Great story! This should be in the print edition.

  65. Jeff, Former Student
    #65

    Within my 4 year at Chavez, I lost all but 1 of the teachers I had studied under. Few teachers seemed to see Chavez as a place to make their teaching career. Krakow leadership was just what students in a school for Public Policy needed. It sad to see another talented Chavez teacher transfer to a private school.

  66. #66

    Other schools should learn from this. The story should be in your print edition.

  67. #67

    Thank you for this important story.

  68. #68

    All of the comments about the terrible irony of the situation are spot-on. One thing that history teaches us all is that when teachers organize, it creates a better environment for staff and students. I hope that the teachers at the Ceaser Chavez schools follow David's example and continue to organize for a better school and fair working conditions. David Krakow would have made Ceaser Chavez proud.

  69. #69

    Really interesting story and glad it has come to light. This is a topic that often devolves into thoughtless ideology and that quickly raises everyone's most defensive shouting voices. I'm glad to read about a specific case and its specific details to see how it is affecting specific students and a specific school community.

  70. Supporter of David
    #70

    Thank you David for standing up for your rights and the rights of your fellow teachers. Litigation is never easy and always stressful. I hope this result vindicates your efforts and I hope the school has learned a valuable lesson. Lean on Me friend.

  71. #71

    Glad to hear David put the energy into speaking up, both before and after being fired. My mother and several of my best friends are teachers, and from everything I've heard, they're the ones with ideas of how to improve education at the schools where they work. I'm glad the issue of union representation in charter schools is beginning to be discussed. At the Cesar Chavez school, no less!

  72. #72

    It is ironic that a teacher at Cesar Chavez should be fired for unionizing. The NLRB is a hard nut to crack so I suspect the case was pretty cut and dried with respect to Mr. Krakow. Good work.

  73. #73

    Congratulations David! It's inconceivable that someone would be fired for trying to organize at the Cesar Chavez school!

  74. #74

    While I certainly applaud freedom of speech and agree the article was well written, when did this author become Moses and City Paper become King James? Does anyone find it odd that not one blog posting starts with, "If this is true..." It seems like a lot of people are quickly rallying around this cause du jour without obtaining the facts. Sorry, to poke at the hype; maybe I'm hyper-sensitive after reading Jennifer was back with Brad yesterday and pregnant by Gerard today - maybe she's really pregnant by Angelina...or Cesar Chavez

  75. #75

    Well fought fight! Thanks for standing up for what is right.

  76. #76

    Congratulations! Your dedication to this cause will serve as an inspiration to many people. Thank you!

  77. #77

    Great story. Good things to know.

  78. #78

    How ironic that collaboration is supposed to be one of the cornerstones of educational reform; yet the charter school movement fights against it by union busting. Thank you Mr. Krakow for being a true educator.

  79. #79

    It's always good to stand up with others for what is right.

  80. #80

    Congratulations to this young man. He risked his livelihood to stand up for working people everywhere.

  81. #81

    Working at a non-unionized private special education school I can only add my voice to the exploitation that can happen within the walls of our schools. This article has been inspiring - and hopefully given us all some courage!

  82. #82

    Charter School teachers need unions too!

  83. #83

    As a former Cesar Chavez Capitol Hill staff member, I agree, Mr. Krakow is an outstanding and compassionate teacher. I worked closely with him at the school and I know he would agree how hard we all work to create the best environment for our students. I also know that Mrs. Salcido is an empowering leader who stands for all that Cesar Chavez taught. But it is certainly unfair that many of us forget how difficult it is for everyone who have dedicated their life to improving the lives of our youth through education. There may have been some wrong doing by some but not by all who work or left our school as teachers, staff, or administrators. I hope we all keep that in mind because I have not found a perfect school or person. So instead of only cheering on Mr. Krakow, which is well deserved, let’s also have a Fruitful dialogue about helping the system improve for all who are involved teachers, staff, students, and parents.

  84. #84

    Dave ... nice to hear that you fought the good fight and found some measure of personal success. Good luck to all of your former colleagues at Cesar Chavez in getting the conditions that all teachers deserve.

  85. #85

    Congrats to David for standing up for what he believed, despite the consequences. It takes courage to create change.

  86. #86

    Regarding Smyth-Riding: "...She says Chavez has never had union for a very simple reason: its teachers are too content." Ahem. My sister worked as a teacher in the Chavez school system and I can very easily assure you that the teachers there were not so incredibly fulfilled that they never saw any reason to act. In fact, the gathering and subsequent punishment of brave teachers that sought to evoke change proves that her point here is completely invalid. I wonder what Cesar Chavez would have thought, to see that the school bearing his namesake disregarded the principles underlying his own activism.

  87. #87

    As a graduate of Chavez I find it very hard to be surprised by the actions that have taken place here wrong as they may be. Losing great teachers every year was something we students became accustomed to and by Senior year it was easy to see why. The very foundation that built this school has to easily become a double-standard. Chavez stressed the use of public policy, to create the change we felt was necessary in our communities, since we stepped foot into the school, yet when we try to implement it within the school, we get shot down. Mr. Krakow is unfortunately an outcome of this.
    Regardless of what the administration thinks the teachers and some staff members made the school for us students. They were the ones worked closely with us and often went outside of their duties to help us out. As an alumus I don't feel grateful to the tyranic administrators for the fact that I am now in college but to the teachers that worked hard for and with us students.
    Until the administrations accepts and respects this they will keep losing great teachers and the qualitly of the school will decrease though from what I've heard and seen it already has. Instead of focusing on expanding it's campuses Chavez needs to focus on the problems within the walls they already have.

  88. #88

    here's hoping that more people stand up and fight for a better educational system *everywhere*! it amazes and saddens me that these are the people in charge...and that they are still in charge.

  89. William Hawkins fan
    #89

    Brava, Wm Hawkins. I'm convinced there are many respondents to this blog who believe in Irasema Salcido - her struggle and mission. She's the real deal; as genuine as they come. Its hard to resolve how we can think its more fun to celebrate this employee and bash Salcido and her administration versus calling out the haters who obviously don't know her. Gosh, can someone atleast say something nice about a woman who dedicates her life to education kids many people consider throwaways? If this article is true (I heard you, Really?!?!), then shame on those individuals, but Chavez is not a bad place as a whole.

  90. #90

    I got an invitation to read this article by way of Mr. Krakow, so I guess I'm supposed to be a supporter, but I have mixed feelings about being so publicly critical about a school with so many kids. I don't know much about the education world, but I'm a parent. I know my kids would be negatively affected to hear that their school is unethical. Its like finding out your school is no longer accredited; you'd feel like you wasted your time with nothing to show. Should the behavior of a few in administration diminish kids' accomplishments and pride in their school? Should adults take part in that?

  91. Don't believe the hype
    #91

    I don't know folks, it seems to me that Cesar Chavez himself wouldn't jump to support a cause and bash an establishment so vehemently based on one article. I gotta go with Really!? and Hawkins fan. Before the villagers start sharpening pitchforks and lighting torches shouldn't they have a bit more actual evidence? "My cousin's uncle's friend drove past Chavez once so I can confirm that those teachers are the downtrodden. It's like the Grapes of Wrath over there. Somebody needs to crack open a can of si se puede!”

    I'm not a current or former Chavez teacher but I have been teaching for nearly 20 years in both public and private schools and I can add this to this lopsided conversation--all teachers, unionized and otherwise feel overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, and unheard. Teachers griping about work conditions is more common in schools than pencils, or gum under desks, or unwieldy students, or outdated texts, or bulky bureaucracies etc. etc.

    Don’t believe me? Ask any teacher if s/he feels compensated commensurate with his/her responsibilities, time and effort. Ask the average public school teacher (who is likely a Teacher’s Union member) if s/he was consulted on curriculum, work hours, the new uniform policy, or how many desks would be in the classroom. It’s unfair the nature of our business. Need further proof? It’s 2am on a school night and I’m up writing into a blog. Why? I was up grading papers.

    It’s hardly news that Krakow had grievances and found other teachers who wanted to commiserate at the coffee house. However, we don’t have more than circumstantial evidence to prove he was let go for attempting to organize a union. So before we continue to burn the poor HR lady, Ms. Smyth-Riding or founder, Irasema Salcido in effigy, let’s follow the facts to the truth before we present them. Didn’t you learn that in 8th grade English class?

  92. How can you be so sure?
    #92

    I was reading through the comments and like Hype I couldn't believe how easily this bandwagon got rolling. Rampant cheers for Krakow and harsh jeers for Chavez and even a few potshots at the school’s administration. All this is based on the investigative journalism of the City Paper? The author only spoke to Krakow—the fired ex-teacher and somebody from HR department of the school. I know that’s not enough to convince me that this issue has been fully vetted. I don’t think the City Paper will be offended when I say that this is hardly Newsweek material.

    It’s hard for me to jump on either side without more information. Do we know if Krakow’s position was filled or closed permanently? Do we have proof of his positive performance reviews and promotion? Like Hype, I don’t think having other unsatisfied teachers still at the school is enough to claim Chavez as union-buster.

    For all we really know Krakow could have the sourest of grapes in his mouth and he could have been let go for legitimate reasons. Or he could be the second coming of Chavez as so many folks here seem eager to proclaim. There just isn’t enough to go on either way. Are we all so anti-establishment that the hint of impropriety is all it takes to get us rallying against the Man? I think it’s irresponsible to make a hero of Krakow or villain of Chavez School without more substantial evidence.

  93. #93

    I’m a career teacher whose been teaching since Krakow was a baby. I think trying to organize his fellow teachers to bring complaints to the administration is admirable. I’ve also got nothing against unions. However I must point out that the complaints we had when I was just starting out in that little Catholic school in Baltimore in the 80’s, aren’t much different from what the union I’m a currently a member of fights for right now. More planning time, fewer classes, more money blah blah blah. It’s like a broken record (see I told you I was old).

    So truth is, Krakow could have got a union going over at Chavez and the teachers would still not get all they wanted. It’s bigger than one charter school, or even all of DCPS, it’s an institutional thing. Until somebody starts paying teachers like comparable professionals teachers are going to have good reason to complain.

  94. #94

    There’s a lot of “Krakow said” in this article; just a little of “Chavez HR lady” said. As somebody who works in management I get frustrated by this kind of slant. Everybody wants to blame the management for everything but rarely do they know all what goes on behind that door. Smyth-Riding said that they let him go for financial reasons? I believe her. Has anybody ever seen the kind of budgets schools try to operate with? That’s likely why they settled, it was going to break them trying to pay the legal fees. I’d bet Bill Gate’s paycheck that the bottom line is more important to a charter school than the picket line is.

  95. #95

    Yes, yes. Of course we shouldn't criminalize any side. I agree with the poster who said that at this point, what is most important is not pointing fingers but figuring out how to move forward in a way that protects and inspires both students and teachers.

    Administrators, since they have both the power of the purse and the power to FIRE PEOPLE, should also be empowered to create positive change, a positive learning environment for students, and a safe and positive work environment for teachers.

    Silence on the matter will not encourage students to learn, but a positive and democratic dialogue on the matter might. Students recognize anti-democratic practices in schools very quickly and easily - they are practically hypocrisy detecting machines. Rather than pretending that we can shelter students from these types of issues, it might be better to engange ALL parties in a dialogue - this of course includes administrators.

    I agree that all teachers are over-worked and under paid but the issue is not that teachers were unhappy, but that one teacher was fired for trying to take positive action to DO something about it (particularly since he wasn't the only one doing so). That's anti-democratic; That's anti-action; and as many previous posters have pointed out, it certainly does seem anti-Cesar Chavez.

  96. #96

    Having worked at a charter school, Mr. Krakow's experience seems to resonate with my own personal encounters with a school administration that would squelch any teacher talks of forming a union or even addressing concerns regarding compensation, hours and school concerns regarding how the administration was running the school. All it ever really took was just one person to not have their contract renewed and these talks would slowly be quieted.

  97. #97

    The Charter Board really needs to take a look at that 53% teacher retention rate. If Chavez is supposed to be a leading example for DC Charter schools, I wonder what other underlying problems exist if they can't maintain qualified teachers. Mr. Hawkins could you explain that issue or is it a common problem at all charter and DC public schools?

  98. #98

    Thanks for publishing this story, teachers are fighting for fair treatment all over the country and this is important coverage. I applaud Mr. Krakow and other educators and echo the earlier commenter's wish that his students could learn from the experience.

  99. #99

    There is no school on the planet than can function well if 30% of the staff is leaving every year. I teach here in Oakland Unified School District where we do have a union and we still have 30% of our staff leaving our district every year.
    Union definitely help and I am glad to have one, but the problems with our schools go beyond what unions can do. Schools need more money to have low class size and teacher preparation time.
    Voters and taxpayers have to realize you can't teach on the cheap and if you do you will always pay for it later.

  100. #100

    Teachers are unhapppy with working conditions. Teachers complain. Teachers feel like their complaints go unheard. And the news part of this is?

    I'm with kenna, when are we going to learn that this is far too common a story and it won't change until the entire insitution changes?

    Oh yeah we are all products of this U.S. education system.

  101. She's more Chavez than not
    #101

    Never met David Krakow, but by the accounts of the blog posters he's Norma Rae, Chavez, with a little Mandela thrown in. It seems a little overstated based on the few facts we have.

    I have met Irasema Salcido. She is hardly a diva, she has a tiny basement office identified by a paper sign taped to the door. She exudes passion and grace. I've heard her tell her story of immigration to Ivy League to school founder. She's authentic. I'm sure her schools have problems; all schools, all organizations have problems. Irasema Salcido would not run a sweatshop and she's not the union-buster sort.

    She deserves the benefit of the doubt until PROVEN otherwise.

  102. #102

    I'm in HR and we're like the police--nobody likes us until they need us. We're at the company to protect and serve. We get your check replaced when you wash it in the washing machine and give you a place to cry when your boss is unreasonable.

    Don't be so quick to blame the HR lady. She's probably doing her job the best she can. She's supposed to be the "cheerleader of the company" She's supposed to protect the companies' interests. I bet those same people who are complaining will call her right away when they need to add their kids to their health insurance.

  103. #103

    I find this article...amazing. I stand behind Mr. Krakow 100%. He taught me my 9th grade year at Chavez and I've learned so much from him. As a student at Chavez I have questioned since my 9th grade year why a school that was founded because of Cesar Chavez's beliefs wouldn’t allow their teachers to join unions. We sit in classes and learn what can be done to change and impact our community but are often discouraged to not take action. I’ve spoken with Mr. Phelan on numerous occasions about holding strikes and things of that nature, and were often told no. I must say that it’s all about making Chavez look good. They get rid of wonderful teachers like Krakow and keep "bad" teachers because that teacher wrote a few books. I thought the whole purpose of Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy - Capitol Hill Campus was to "develop young people who will make this world a better place by influencing the public policies that affect their communities." I bet you administrators will do everything in their power to make sure this article doesn't create too much buzz.
    SN: Way to go Me. Ferguson!! I agree.

  104. #104

    I am so proud that David stood up for what is right. It is not easy and we live in a time that many are uncertain how to respond to the wrongs around them. Thank you, David, for your courage and belief that educating your students is worth fighting for. No, David Krakow may not be as big as life but it goes to show that one person can and does make a difference.

  105. #105

    It saddens me that a school would rather fire a strong, dedicated teacher and pay a $15,000 settlement than agree to work with staff to improve conditions for teaching and learning. Cheers to DK for fighting for his rights!

  106. #106

    I hope that this article will finally bring some attention and action to this issue, and will help to enable teachers at Cesar Chavez to gain the rights they deserve. Please publish it in the print paper! The teachers that I know at CC work incredibly hard every single day, but they are faced with discouragement and a lack of support from administrators. Ultimately, the teachers and the administration should be on the same side working towards the same end goal--a better learning environment for their students. The administration should be supporting their teachers in reaching this end goal instead of continuing to perpetuate a somewhat hostile relationship. Teachers, hang in there and keep on doing the great work you do. There are so many of us out here who admire and support you, even when the administration seems not to.

  107. #107

    Congrats, David, on an important victory. The right to organize is a fundamental right in this country, and it is shameful that a charter school named after one of this country's preeminent labor organizers would so flagrantly violate that right.

  108. #108

    Not sure if HR lady is really educated and experienced?

  109. #109

    how many teachers do we lose, burn out, toss aside every single year? How *do* we take this machine apart and put it back together properly?

  110. #110

    actually public schools can also give great education to your kids, it is also as good as most private schools ""

  111. #111

    the public schools on our district can really give some good education to young kids. they have high standards *`'

  112. #112

    Great post, I conceive blog owners should acquire a lot from this site its rattling user genial .

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